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Clinical complaints: a means of improving quality of care.
  1. P Bark,
  2. C Vincent,
  3. A Jones,
  4. J Savory
  1. St Mary's Hospital, London.

    Abstract

    OBJECTIVES--To establish the reasons for clinical complaints, complainants' feelings about the original incident, and their motivation in complaining. DESIGN--Postal questionnaire survey. SETTING--24 hospitals in North West Thames region. SUBJECTS--1007 complainants who had written to 20 hospitals between 1 January 1992 and 30 June 1993 about a complaint involving a clinical incident. MAIN MEASURES--Personal details, the nature of the complaint, the complainant's reaction to the original incident, the quality of the explanation at the time of the incident, the reasons for making a complaint, and what would have prevented the incident. RESULTS--491 completed questionnaires were received (response rate 49%). Complaints arose from serious incidents, generally a clinical problem combined with staff insensitivity and poor communication. Clinical complaints were seldom about a clinical incident alone (54; 11%); most (353; 72%) included a clinical component and dissatisfaction with personal treatment of the patient or care. In all, 242(49%) complainants reported a need for additional medical treatment, 206(42%) reported that the patient's condition had worsened as a result of treatment, and 175(36%) that side effects had been experienced. In 26(5%) cases the patient had died. Complainants' primary motive was to prevent recurrence of a similar incident. Lack of detailed information and staff attitude were identified as important criticisms. CONCLUSIONS--The emphasis must be on obtaining a better response to complaints at the clinical level by the staff involved in the original incident, not simply on adjusting the complaints procedure. Staff training in responding to distressed and dissatisfied patients is essential, and monitoring complaints must form part of a more general risk management programme.

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