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Knowledge Base » Care » Addressing Complaints and Concerns in Health and Social Care Settings

Addressing Complaints and Concerns in Health and Social Care Settings

Within health and social care settings, there can be many different reasons for complaints and concerns to be raised. For those working in these services, it’s important to know how to deal with these issues and respond appropriately and effectively. 

Almost 1.5 million people are working in the NHS in England alone. There is a similar number of people working in adult social care too. With these figures, the voices of patients and clients are vital guides; they highlight areas for improvement and signal when quality care may be falling short. Listening attentively to their feedback, resolving issues quickly and enacting meaningful changes is imperative. Above all else, patients and clients rely upon these services and trust them to deliver compassionate, effective care. As such, any complaints, whatever their nature, need to be treated in a way that retains that trust.

Importance of Feedback and Communication

Feedback is important for health and social care settings, both positive and negative. This feedback is what guides innovation and improvement. Patient and client experiences are powerful indicators. They provide insights into where services can be refined and improved. Each complaint voiced, each concern raised, represents an opportunity to rectify individual grievances but also enact systemic changes that improve the quality of care for all.

Effective communication between providers and those they serve is crucial. When individuals feel able to voice their thoughts and feelings openly, healthcare and social care settings can cultivate a culture of trust and collaboration. Encouraging patients and clients to express their concerns, whether big or small, ensures their needs are met and it also strengthens the trust.

Central to this ethos of communication are the mechanisms through which feedback flows freely. From traditional suggestion boxes to modern complaint hotlines and online feedback forms, these channels should be accessible communication avenues for anyone who wishes to be heard. 

concerns in health and social care

Causes for complaints

Examples of reasons why patients or service users may complain include:

  • Waiting list times
  • Cancellations or postponements of treatment
  • Inadequate quality of care
  • Poor communication
  • Staff behaviour
  • Receiving harmful care like neglect or wrong medication
  • Being discharged from hospital without support or treatment
  • Diagnosis not being explained
  • Being refused a service
  • Not being ‘person-centred’
  • Changes to times of support or care
  • Delays in support

Responding to Complaints and Concerns

How complaints and concerns are addressed can impact the trust and satisfaction of patients and clients. Navigating responses with care, empathy and efficiency can help maintain the integrity of care provision. It requires a structured approach to ensure consistency. 


The first step in addressing complaints and concerns is acknowledgement. Promptly acknowledging the issue signals to the individual that their voice is heard and respected.

Active listening

In situations where a patient or service user is complaining in person or over the phone, active listening is vital. This means providers should engage attentively with the individual’s narrative and seek to understand their experience. This act of genuine listening validates their concerns and also lays the groundwork for a collaborative resolution process.


Empathy is crucial for complaint resolution. Demonstrating empathy communicates to the individual that their emotions and experiences are valued. It develops a sense of trust and rapport. Through empathetic responses, providers can bridge the gap between themselves and the individual, forging a path towards mutual understanding and resolution.

Appropriate next steps

When it comes to resolving complaints, a variety of strategies may be employed. The next steps will be tailored to the nature and severity of the issue at hand. In cases where errors or lapses in care have occurred, a sincere apology can go a long way in acknowledging responsibility and expressing regret. 

It’s also important to provide clarity and transparency regarding the circumstances surrounding the complaint and the steps being taken to address it. 

In situations where individuals have experienced harm or inconvenience, compensation may be offered as a means of restitution, aiming to mitigate the impact of the incident and restore trust. 

By embracing these principles of acknowledgement, active listening, empathy and tailored resolution strategies, healthcare and social care providers can navigate complaints and concerns with integrity and compassion, strengthening relationships and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and accountability.

Investigating and Resolving Issues

In most cases of complaint, situations require investigation to be resolved and there are structures and procedures to follow depending on the organisation and policies in place. 

Typically, there will be a dedicated team tasked with dealing with complaints and quality assurance. These individuals conduct thorough investigations to unearth the root causes of issues and identify opportunities for improvement. 

These teams will also document findings and analyse trends, which will then be used to inform strategic decision-making and drive organisational change where it’s needed.

In parallel, patient advocacy groups and regulatory bodies also have an important role in overseeing the complaint resolution process and holding organisations accountable to the highest standards of care. In the NHS, for example, the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) is a point of contact for patients that helps them resolve concerns or problems with the NHS. 

Through advocacy efforts and regulatory oversight, these entities ensure that complaints are addressed promptly, transparently and following established protocols and regulations. Their presence instils confidence in the integrity of the complaint resolution process so that people feel they can voice their concerns without fear of reprisal.

complaints in health and social care

The investigation

A thorough investigation is central to effective complaint resolution. By exploring the circumstances surrounding each complaint, organisations can uncover systemic issues, address underlying causes and implement corrective actions to prevent recurrence. This might mean enhancing staff training and revising protocols to redesigning processes and systems. 

Typically, an investigation will follow a step-by-step approach like this:

  • Receipt of the complaint through established channels.
  • Documentation of the complaint to capture the essential details and supporting documentation or evidence.
  • Initial assessment to determine urgency, severity and potential impact on the person’s care or well-being.
  • Assignment of responsibility – the complaint may be assigned to a particular team, person or department to deal with.
  • Information gathering.
  • Analysis and evaluation of the information.
  • Communication with the complainant – this should be at regular intervals to provide updates or gather further information.
  • Resolution and action planning based on the findings of the investigation.
  • Closure and follow-up.
  • Documentation and reporting – it may be necessary to report the complaint externally.

Empowering Patients/Clients in the Complaint Process

Empowering patients and clients to actively engage in the complaint process is essential for fostering a culture of transparency, accountability and patient-centred care. By providing individuals with the knowledge, resources and support they need, healthcare and social care organisations can ensure that every voice is heard and every concern is addressed with integrity.

One important aspect of this is to provide patients with clear and accessible information about their rights and the procedures for lodging complaints. Organisations should offer comprehensive guidance on how individuals can navigate the complaint process, outlining the steps involved and the channels through which complaints can be submitted. In doing so, organisations empower individuals to advocate for themselves and assert their rights to quality care.

Besides providing information about complaint procedures, organisations should also offer access to support services designed to assist individuals throughout complaint resolution, like PALS. 

They should also point them in the direction of patient advocacy groups, ombudsmen services or dedicated support helplines, where they can access resources and guidance to help them in the complaint process. These support services serve as valuable allies, offering guidance, advocacy and emotional support to individuals as they navigate the sometimes daunting terrain of raising concerns about their care.

It’s also crucial to ensure patient and client rights are protected at every stage. Confidentiality safeguards should be in place to protect their privacy and confidentiality throughout the complaint process. This will help instil confidence that their concerns will be handled discreetly and sensitively. Furthermore, organisations must uphold principles of impartiality and fairness, ensuring that complaints are investigated objectively and without bias.

Equally important is the assurance that individuals who raise concerns about their care will be protected from retaliation or discrimination. By creating a culture where individuals feel safe and supported in speaking up about their experiences, organisations foster an environment of trust and accountability, where feedback is valued and acted upon constructively. All of this is a fundamental aspect of patient-centred care.

Learning from Feedback and Continuous Improvement

For all involved in health and social care, continuous learning, adaptation and improvement is a big part of the organisation. Feedback from complaints is a useful tool for driving change and bringing about improvement initiatives. Each complaint is a valuable opportunity for teams to reflect and grow. By actively listening to the experiences shared by patients and clients, organisations can identify recurring issues and pinpoint opportunities to enhance the delivery of care.

From revising policies and protocols to implementing staff training initiatives and redesigning processes, the insights from complaints and concerns can instigate a range of improvement initiatives to enhance the quality, safety and effectiveness of care delivery.

For instance, in response to negative feedback regarding long wait times for appointments, healthcare clinics may implement scheduling optimisation strategies to improve access and reduce wait times. Similarly, in social care settings, feedback regarding communication gaps between care teams and clients may lead to the development of enhanced communication protocols or the implementation of technology-enabled communication platforms.

Promoting a Culture of Feedback and Improvement

Effective leadership, comprehensive staff training and a supportive culture play important roles in creating an environment where feedback is encouraged, embraced and acted upon. Leaders set the tone for this. By championing transparency, accountability and open communication, they can inspire trust and confidence among staff, patients and clients alike. When leaders listen to feedback, address concerns and make meaningful changes as a result, they set the stage for a culture of continuous improvement.

Comprehensive staff training is also important here too. When staff have the necessary skills, tools and resources to solicit, receive and act upon feedback effectively, they can contribute to the improvement process. 

Training could include:

  • Active listening techniques
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Strategies for incorporating feedback into daily practices so that staff can deal with complaints with confidence and empathy.

Feedback from staff as well as patients

Employees in health and social care settings should also have opportunities to give feedback. However, a culture of feedback and improvement can only work if they feel comfortable expressing their concerns without fear of retribution. Organisations must actively cultivate an atmosphere of trust, respect and psychological safety, where individuals feel empowered to speak up about issues, share their perspectives and collaborate on solutions. By creating channels for anonymous feedback, offering confidential support services and enforcing non-retaliation policies, organisations can instil confidence that feedback will be received with openness and acted upon constructively.

Organisations should implement strategies for soliciting and integrating feedback into daily practice. Regular staff meetings and performance reviews are valuable feedback opportunities. By incorporating feedback mechanisms into routine workflows and decision-making processes, organisations can ensure that it is also integrated into strategic planning and quality improvement initiatives.

addressing complaints and concerns


Addressing complaints and concerns about health and social care is a large part of ensuring quality provision, trust-building and patient/client-centred care. Firstly, active listening is crucial for a successful resolution whenever a complaint is raised. By attentively hearing and understanding the concerns voiced by patients and clients, healthcare and social care providers can lay the groundwork for constructive dialogue and meaningful solutions. Swift acknowledgement and empathetic response further underscore the commitment to addressing grievances promptly and with compassion.

A part of improving services means it’s necessary to integrate feedback into organisational processes. Whether through quality assurance teams, regulatory oversight or patient advocacy groups, feedback aids innovation, informs strategic decision-making and guides improvement initiatives.

Importantly, the commitment to resolving complaints should be ingrained within the fabric of organisational culture. It should be upheld by leadership, staff and stakeholders alike. By ensuring individuals feel safe and supported in expressing their concerns, organisations can have a culture of trust, transparency and accountability.

In conclusion, by prioritising complaint resolution processes as integral components of patient/client-centred care, healthcare and social care organisations can uphold their commitment to quality, integrity and the well-being of those they serve. Through these efforts, they ensure every voice is heard, every concern is addressed and every individual receives the standard of care they deserve.

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About the author

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Louise Woffindin

Louise is a writer and translator from Sheffield. Before turning to writing, she worked as a secondary school language teacher. Outside of work, she is a keen runner and also enjoys reading and walking her dog Chaos.

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