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Complaints, Research

How do complaints affect those complained about? And what can we do about it?

Researchers exploring the effect of complaints on public-sector staff are seeking examples of ‘what works’ for a Model Document.

Carolyn Hirst and Chris Gill

Chris Gill has already posted a note of the conference which took place at Queen Margaret University on 5 December 2017, at which our research on the findings of a small mixed methods research study investigating the effects of complaints on those who have been complained about was presented. We carried out this research with Maria Sapouna (Programme Leader of the University of the West of Scotland’s Master of Public Administration and Lecturer in Criminal Justice) and Jane Williams (Senior Lecturer in Dispute Resolution at Queen Margaret University), and have published a Report of our findings.

We decided to look in this study at the complaints experienced in local authority planning departments and housing associations. This was because they represented contrasting areas of public service provision across the following dimensions: types of service users, statutory function and context, and both public and independent sector service provision. These sectors were also chosen because they had relatively high levels of complaints to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman and, therefore, represented areas where complaints were likely to be an important issue for staff.

Our key finding was that being complained about affects the health and well-being of these employees, their work practice, and the way they perceive service users. 71% reported their work practice was negatively affected by a complaint, 67.2% reported their health and well-being was affected, and 61.2% reported their attitude to service users being affected.

So What Next?

We have some funding from the University of Glasgow to translate the findings of this research project into some practical resources. Our plan is to produce a short guidance document which will outline our key research findings, highlight the importance of the issue and recommend key measures to public service providers.

We will also produce a Model Policy Document on the approaches and actions which all public sector providers could take to help them support staff who have been complained about. This can be adapted and adopted to suit.

And we need your help to produce this Model Policy. What we are looking for is examples of what has worked in practice to support staff in these situations – and the type of actions which might be helpful.

We would like to hear from both those who have been complained about and those who have a role in supporting them – and ask that you contact cahirstworks@aol.com before 29 June 2018 if you would like to contribute to this work.


About the authors:

Chris Gill is a Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow. Carolyn Hirst is an independent Consultant and Researcher at Hirstworks.


2 thoughts on “How do complaints affect those complained about? And what can we do about it?

  1. So much is written on this subject but never any action takes place! And endless meetings, ‘evidence taking’ etc. Speaking here as someone injured to the point where I had to leave my job, I can only say that all I wanted after being injured was to know what was wrong and what to do to get it right. This was not to be as those who caused this ran for cover aka cover up which set off a chain reaction, so when I had my first clue having been sent to the occuational health department at work, I was met with further hostility. I did find out after 10 months via my MP when having left my job and was still wondering what the hell had happened – that is the sole reason I felt the need to complain, by which time I had lost out on a lot of pay etc, and by then I felt it only fair to compensate. This I have found is the feeling throughout for those injured. How about thinking of the effect an undiagnosed injury has on the patient please. Those medical bods are happy to call themselves professional, so surely making good their errors should be inlcuded. Unfortunately the complaints system is fake and adds to the distress already suffered. When is this unnnecessary mess ever going to stop? There is no need to carry on this way. It is also wasteful in every respect and blocks progress.

    Posted by Peggy Banks | October 4, 2018, 6:31 pm
  2. Interesting research. Thank you,

    In our family’s case, we lost our daughter Averil through NHS negligence and then had to fight for many years to get our complaint heard.

    The clinicians involved got counciling, early retirement, promotion and handled delicately throughout this time. Averil’s family received nothing but desirory replies from the Cambridge and Peterborough NHS trust. The stress has beem and continues to be overwhelming.

    After six years of fighting for the truth we finally have an Ombudsman’s report that says that Averil’s death was totally avoidable and blames CPFT and the other NHS trusts involved for service failure.

    In the meantime other patients have died needlessly in the same circumstances.Is it any wonder that we have tragedies like Mid Staffs, Southern Healthcare and Gosport.

    Why didnt they listen and learn and save lives instead of covering up the truth to protect the reputation of the NHS trust and the clinicians involved ?

    Nic Hart
    Averil’s dad

    Posted by Nic Hart | October 4, 2018, 7:56 am

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