Since the publication of the Francis report into services at the Mid Staffordshire Hospital there has been an increased recognition that actively listening to, and acting on, concerns and complaints from people using NHS services is vital in ensuring that services are fit for purpose. Much work has been, and continues to be, done on this issue in relation to hospitals but less so in the primary care sector and especially in GP practices. Most people’s first point of contact with the NHS is through their GP service and this is where Healthwatch Dorset wanted to establish whether people are empowered and encouraged to make complaints. If the culture here is welcoming, open and empowering then people may feel better able to raise concerns throughout their entire journey through the system. Complaints should be welcomed, as they improve services. Anna Bradley, Chair of Healthwatch England, has recently pointed out that in other sectors managers would recognise that complaints are, in fact, “gold dust”. Using volunteers as “mystery shoppers”, Healthwatch Dorset undertook to visit every GP practice across Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth to gain an insight into whether people are provided with the right information and support to raise concerns they may have about GP services. Overall, they were greeted with courtesy and attended to promptly. But findings also suggest that there is some work to be done in ensuring that people receive current, up-to-date, comprehensive and accessible information to allow them to make decisions and to feel that making a complaint is a positive and welcomed form of communication. As a result, our recommendations for GP practices include reviewing written and web-based information and encouraging staff to be open and positive to people who wish to express their concerns. Our report - Something To Complain About? - can be downloaded below.
A year later, we carried out a repeat review of all GP practice websites (where a website is in place). Our new report - Something To Complain About Revisited, can be downloaded below.