Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What’s the point of complaining: learning from mistakes

This month the Heathcare Commission has published its second report on NHS complaints systems. It suggested that the NHS should use complaints to learn from mistakes and promote improvement.

It’s not a new or radical idea. As Bill Gates commented: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning."

Yet reporting on complaints is often seen as chore of governance rather than an opportunity for learning. Reports labour over who complains, what about and what happened (in terms of whether complaints “upheld” and remedial action) – with hardly a mention (probably no mention) of what lessons were drawn from upheld complaints (and, of course, even rejected complaints might indicate scope for improvement).

If public and third sector want to improve their complaints processes, there is help out there. The Housing Ombudsman published a guide some year ago which sets out key principles and best practice (pdf available).

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