The experience of making a complaint, including its outcome, often falls short of patient expectations.
The UK has the highest health litigation costs in Europe, and this is highly consequential for the NHS because litigation can result from dissatisfaction with, and exhaustion of a system not meeting a patient’s needs.
The strongest predictor for litigation is not medical error but dissatisfaction with communication, either within the clinical encounter or subsequently in the complaints handling process. A Healthwatch survey of 1676 adults reported that 60% either did not know how, or found it difficult to complain and 61% of complainants did not feel as though their complaint was taken seriously. Moreover, complaint handlers reported the need for communication training so they can ‘feel more confident in understanding the needs that patients and service users are expressing in making a complaint’.
To improve complainants’ experience, reduce litigation rates, and better support complaint handlers we need improved understanding of the very particular communicative demands of complaints handling in healthcare and the ways in which current practices do not meet expectations.