Public service leaders ‘should listen more to complaints’

14 Apr 14
MPs have slammed a ‘culture of denial’ and ‘failure of leadership’ in the way the public sector handles complaints.

In a hard-hitting report published today, the Public Administration Select Committee cited the care failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust as emblematic of the problem of public sector leaders failing to hear and address concerns of patients, their families and staff.

The committee is urging the creation of a single point of contact for members of the public who want to make complaints about government departments or agencies.

Committee chair Bernard Jenkin said: ‘There needs to be a revolution in the way public services are run, and how the public perceives government. As things are, most people believe there is no point in complaining.

‘The shocking collapse of care at Mid-Staffs hospital should be warning to the whole public sector that too many managers in public services are in denial about what their customers and their staff think about them.’

The PASC’s More Complaints Please! report argues that the way in which complaints are handled determines the quality of the relationship between consumers and public services. It said the best-performing organisations welcome complaints as a way of engaging with consumers. Failure to recognise the importance of complaints can limit the impact they have on improving services and also alienate the public.

Jenkin said the government itself does not comply with best practice in complaints handling and needed to lead from the top, putting a minister in charge of complaints policy.

‘Unless and until we have a culture of leadership in public services that listens to, values and responds to complaints, from service users and staff, there will always be the potential for tragedies like Mid-Staffs, and opportunities to improve services and public confidence will be missed again and again,’ he said.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor echoed the committee’s concerns, saying that learning from complaints should be embedded into the culture of government departments and backed with strong leadership.

‘We think there is much more to be done in this area and will be carrying out research into how departmental boards are engaging with complaints and using them to learn, improve and innovate,’ she said.

‘We look forward to working with the Cabinet Office and hope their review into government complaints systems will explore with departments how boards can use the experience of complainants to make improvements across public services.’

A government spokesman said: ‘We are committed to improving public services. The tragic events at Mid-Staffordshire were a turning point for the NHS and the Francis Inquiry showed just how important it is that there is an open and transparent culture where complaints are listened to, and action is taken to improve services – we are committed to taking this vital agenda forward.
‘We welcome PASC’s work in this area, and will respond to the committee’s report in due course.’



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