Complaints Handling: is your policy complaint proof?
As of 1 January 2016, the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner replaces the Aged Care Complaints Scheme. The rationale behind the change is to increase the independence of complaints management by separating complaints handling from the Department of Health’s funding and regulatory roles.
The change of arrangement provides a timely reminder to aged care providers to review their policies concerning the making of, and handling of, complaints. A Complaints Handling Policy should address issues including the following:
- Who may make a complaint (residents/care recipients/relatives and friends);
- What are the matters about which they may complain;
- How is a complaint to be made (verbally, in writing) and to whom;
- What can a complainant expect to happen once the complaint has been made: when will they receive an acknowledgement of their complaint?
- What is the process for assessing and if appropriate, investigating a complaint?
- What are the timeframes for completing an assessment and / or investigation and how and when will the complainant be advised of the outcome.
Whilst not the motivating factor of all complainants, many complainants exercising their rights under a complaints scheme will often say that the reason for making the complaint is to make sure that the issue about which they are complaining does not happen again (to anyone). It is therefore important to remember that actions speak louder than words. If an improvement can be made because of an issue identified as a part of a complaints handling process, make sure the improvement is made and make it known. Sharing good news such as improvements in the provision of care, better processes and improved service delivery is always positive. In contrast, failing to act may result in disgruntled residents or care recipients, unhappy relatives and friends and unhappy staff.
A comprehensive complaints policy may also reduce complaints to external bodies such as the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner. Being responsive to complainants and making sure they know and feel that they have been heard, that action (as appropriate) has been taken and their feedback (be it positive or negative) is always welcome, will reduce the likelihood of complaints being made to external bodies. Further, if a complaint is made to an external body, a comprehensive complaints policy (and evidence it is followed) will help a provider to respond to a complaint made to an external complaints body.
Educating all staff about a provider’s complaints policy is also critical. All staff should be able to inform a resident or care recipient, or a relative or friend, how and to whom a complaint may be made. This is part and parcel of being responsive to the needs of residents and care recipients.
Dominique Egan, Partner