Preparing the organisation
An effective system to resolve and manage complaints should involve:
- procedures for service users and their families, carers or nominees to make complaints
- an organised way to respond to complaints
- recording and reporting
- using complaints to improve the safety and quality of services
- guidance for staff about how to resolve complaints.
As a service provider, you may wish to consider the following tips for effectively managing complaints:
- implement a complaints management policy / procedure – complaint procedure
- ensure that staff and volunteers are trained so they understand and feel confident about handling complaints
- include reminders about policy / procedure updates in regular communications (e.g. email distributions or staff newsletters)
- think about developing a dedicated complaints resolution team
- utilise support networks within professional associations, clinical networks or peer groups
- identify insurance requirements – as many practitioners are required to consult with their insurer when they receive a complaint
- contact your insurer – they may be able to help
- review and familiarise the organisation with relevant legislation and accreditation requirements
- consider making it easier for service users to make a complaint (e.g. online complaint form)
- develop a complaint database to capture complaint information, to identify trends and monitor service improvements
- keep in contact with external agencies such as HCSCC, which may be able to provide help with complaints
- keep in contact with service users – be available to discuss any concerns
To discover the ‘complaints culture’ within your organisation visit HCSCC resources and publications to find out about the Complaint Culture Surveys developed by the Office of the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner – a great tool to identify areas where you are doing well and areas where you could further improve.
A step-by-step guide
Every complaint is different, so your approach to resolving it will differ in each situation. While there are no hard and fast rules to follow in the resolution of complaints, the following step-by-step instructions will help in most situations.
Complaints do add to your already hectic workload but delays in dealing with them can add to tension and generate further resentment. Give a factual, clear, succinct and complete picture of the essential circumstances, answering all questions fully. Be willing to apologise. If you can’t respond quickly, let the service user know as soon as possible. Provide all relevant documents when requested. Aim to make progress towards resolving the complaint within 30 days of receipt.
Be clear about your service users concerns and objectives. The reason for the complaint may not be clear at first. Ask questions and make sure you are on the right track. Check about the need for interpreter services and see if the service user would like a friend or relative to support them. Give due consideration to points of view put forward by the complainant.
Gather all the relevant information
Make sure you have all the necessary records, reports and other relevant information.
Keep clear and accurate records
Separate the service user’s complaint records from their service records. This ensures that the matter is properly documented, protects everyone’s privacy and minimises difficulties where other practitioners provide services to your service user.
Emphasise confidentiality and privacy
A complaint should be treated confidentially. Minimise the number of staff who are aware of, or involved in, handling the complaint to protect both your own and the service users privacy.
Plan meetings and stay calm
It is preferable to meet on neutral territory where everyone feels comfortable. Also try to ensure interruptions or disruptions are minimised.
Keep your promises
Make sure that you set realistic timeframes in relation to promises, offers or agreed actions – and then keep them. If unexpected events arise which make it difficult to keep previous arrangements, personally notify the service user as soon as possible. Consider if complaints expose inadequacy in policy or procedure that need to be fixed promptly to avoid repeat complaints.
Seek advice and assistance if you are unsure about how to proceed
There may be times when it is unrealistic or not appropriate for you to deal with a complaint personally, for example complaints involving extremely distressed or aggressive people, complex situations involving multiple service providers or allegations of assault or sexual misconduct, are all situations where seeking advice is recommended.
Advice can be obtained from a respected colleague, your employer, a professional association, an indemnity / insurance body or from HCSCC.
Other points to remember
- Complaints can be positive and lead to service improvements.
- It is perfectly natural to experience some initial defensiveness when a complaint is received.
- Take the time to consider the complaint and compose yourself before dealing with the service user.
- Try to remain calm, open-minded and listen.
- Complainants may still choose to speak with the HCSCC.
- A well-managed complaint could avoid further escalation and also provide valuable feedback about your organisation.
- Inform a complainant about how and when you intend to respond.
Resources for service providers
To help improve service provider’s capacity to resolve complaints locally, HCSCC can provide tailored education and training programs (e.g. managing unreasonable complainant behaviour and effective complaints handling practices). Please contact HCSCC to discuss educational and training opportunities.
Some other resources you may find useful:
A brochure for providers of health and community services.
A brochure for consumers of health and community services.
A brochure for consumers and providers of health and community services about the HCSCC Charter.
Know Your Rights – Easy English – Generic
Know Your Rights – Easy English – ATSI specific
Resources developed by the former Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Healthcare (ACSQH)
Complaints culture surveys
Good practice guide
The Office of the Victorian Disability Services Commissioner has developed the guide and self audit tool to help disability service providers to develop and review their complaints management system. Although the resource has a specific focus on disability service providers, much of the content is applicable to most health and community service providers in South Australia.
These and other resources are available to download from HCSCC Resources and publications: