So begins the famous Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch. I am not a great fan of Monty Python myself as I simply don’t “get” some of it but, for those who are not familiar with this legendary sketch it is, whilst being completely off the wall and bizarre, very funny. It involves John Cleese trying to complain to pet shop owner Michael Palin, who has sold him a parrot which is in fact dead.
I was reminded of this lately and watched it on youtube. (Click here if you wish to do likewise) In reality this a humorous take on complaints handling at its worst, the service user wishing to raise a genuine concern and being “stone walled” by the service provider.
When I saw this again it made me think about how we handle complaints in the NHS, in particular in NHS D&G. I like to think that our Patient Services Team are a little more welcoming and receptive than Michael Palin and the outcomes for both the service user and staff are much better. The question is however, are we getting it right for our staff and the service user? In honesty the answer for both is most of the time – but I don’t think this is good enough and want to make this better. The challenge is that this is a very difficult area to always get things right for everyone, not least due to this being a very emotive and often personal subject. We are however constantly trying to improve what we do.
I have to be clear that we deal with all forms of feedback from patients, families and carers: complaints, concerns, comments & compliments. We receive far more compliments than we do complaints. Recently we have focussed on improving our complaints process and therefore my focus in this blog relates to this.
As our processes for handling complaints continuously develop we must avoid becoming transactional, for instance simply focussing on ensuring we meet our 20 working day response deadline. Recognising this, we have started making changes to streamline our approach in a more person centred way. In any organisation where the business is working with and alongside people, I would observe that it is easy to forget that people are individuals each with different personalities and circumstances. In Ken’s recent blog he referred us to the “Empathy: Cleveland Clinic” clip available on youtube which perfectly illustrated this.
On receipt of a complaint or concern we have increased our contact by telephoning the person to discuss their issue in more detail. This way we are able to establish exactly what response they need; a face to face meeting, a full investigation, a written explanation or, if it is justified, simply just an apology. More importantly this discussion allows us to understand what the exact concerns are. What is written on paper is often not a good representation of what a person in really trying to say.
Since we have developed this approach we have been able to deal with a number of issues quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction. In some cases the service user is happy to have got things “off their chest” and for us to have simply acknowledged them. It is sometimes the case that a simple misunderstanding can be addressed straight away.
Patient Experience Group
To support our team and make improvements we have also created a Patient Experience Group which is chaired by Dr Ken Donaldson. This group consists of key members of the complaints team and clinical staff. A “Patient Experience Group” without independent representation on behalf of patients would be pointless and I am very pleased that our future meetings will be attended by our local Patient Advice & Support Service. The group’s role includes focussing on significant complaints and developing how we gather and share compliments. Most importantly we are discussing learning from feedback to ensure that this is fed back not just to the individuals involved but to similar areas that may benefit. This initial remit for the new group, which already feels very positive, will no doubt grow in due course.
From a personal perspective I have to be very honest in saying that in the last 3 years I have become a convert, not to theology, or worse from rugby to football, but in relation to complaints. I applied for and was successful in getting a job that was “dealing with complaints”. This has developed as I have moved on to work also with risk. Many colleagues see these role’s as very negative, one senior charge nurse (you know who you are) even refers to me as the “Grim Reaper” (I have thought about chasing him with a hoover so he can talk about Dyson with Death?). My conversion is in seeing that complaints are in fact normally very positive. I am now simply able to see that we identify learning from complaints to make positive improvements to our service. The difficulty is ensuring that these actually happen.
For those of us who deal with complaints on a daily basis it is disheartening to see how repetitive some issues can be. We see the same themes repeating themselves over and over again. I am sure that with our recent developments that we will see more of what makes my, and my colleague Yvonne’s, job worthwhile identifying learning and seeing it put in place to make a change.
To come back to where I started, my main message is that, as we develop our approach, our old methods of dealing with complaints and concerns have, like the parrott in John Cleese famous quote from the sketch, “Ceased to be”.
Our Enhanced Patient Experience Event will be on Friday 6th September at Easterbrook Hall. We need 20 teams of between 5 and 8 to take part from across NHS Dumfries and Galloway.
If you are interested please contact me on the above number or drop an email to:
Next week’s blog will be by Stephanie Mottram, Service Development Manager for Acute and Diagnostics, NHS Dumfries and Galloway.