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How to manage a Complaint in General Practice

Navigating NHS Complaints: A Doctor's Guide to Self-Care

Let's dive into a crucial aspect of our profession: handling NHS complaints in primary care. Specifically, I want to shed light on how to take care of yourself when faced with a complaint.

Now, let's tackle the delicate topic of managing complaints. Before we start though, one of the main overarching principles of GP On The Move is we are here to help doctors help patients better. I have seen blogs or twitter accounts that make fun of patients, and in my opinion that is wrong and unprofessional. Furthermore, complaints will come from a place of misunderstanding and often anger and frustration, even despite our best efforts, so let’s focus on how we can manage your first complaint with a simple 3 step approach. And yes, believe it or not, this was the first complaint I got since qualifying bleep years ago. One fundamental principle of GP On The Move is respecting patients and their experiences. Remember, complaints often stem from misunderstandings and frustrations, so our focus should be on managing our first complaint with a three-step approach.

Step 1: Stop

I can see what you are doing. Step away from the keyboard. I said step away from the keyboard. One of the biggest mistakes people make when they first get a complaint, is to respond straight away. We just can’t help it; it feels so personal. Remember, the time scale to replying to a complaint is 6 months, this is after you practice sends an acknowledgement that the complaint has been received and that should happen within 3 working days. Give yourself at least 2 weeks of getting support from colleagues and friends and just trying to get some distance from the heat of the events. Go for a run, go for a drink, hug someone (providing you are safe to do so) and only after that time start drafting a response.

Step 2: Contact

So, you waited two weeks, haven’t looked at the complaint even once during that time, and you’re ready to deal with it. You sit down in front of your computer, you read the consult and the complaint, your hands shift away from your keyboard and towards your phone. Why? You ask? Because you are calling your MDO – medical defence organisation. Speak to someone who deals with complaints day in and day out and debrief on what happened and how to respond. MDOs will often have excellent articles which will guide you in responding to the complaint.

Examples are :

1. Address every area of concern

2. Keep it factual

3. Apologise if appropriate - about how the consultation went for example. Write a draft, send it to them, fix it, send it again, and if they say it’s good, it’s good.

Step 3: Reflect

As a practice, we are super lucky that all of our telephone consultations are recorded and stored for a period of 3 years. So the first thing I did when I got this complaint, was I asked the partners to listen to the consultation and help me focus on ways I can improve in the future. Also, I needed them to hear the consult because being called condescending, arrogant and unwilling to listen – those are serious accusations. Thankfully, they told me I was absolutely none of those things during the consult, but they did point out a bit in the consultation where things went downhill and suggested ways I could prevent that from happening in the future.

I hope this guide helps. If you found it valuable, show some love with a thumbs-up and comment. Don't forget to subscribe for more helpful content. For any queries, drop me an email.

Thanks again, and good luck navigating the world of medical practice!

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