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Written responses to complaints

8 Jan 2021

At some stage during the course of dealing with a complaint, it is likely that you will need to send a written response, either in reply to a letter of complaint or following a meeting with the complainant.

The following advice is intended to assist you in composing your letter:
  • Consider sending a “holding response” - It may be appropriate to acknowledge receipt of the complaint and inform the complainant you aim to respond within a particular timeframe. Diarise this timeframe and ensure any updates are sent in a timely manner.
  • Identify and respond - Identify the concerns that have been raised and respond to the complaint. It is often helpful to set out an account of what took place, even if this is background information, but do not lose sight of the issues.
  • Be courteous, objective and professional - The purpose of your response is to try and resolve the complaint, not to perpetuate further correspondence.
  • Establish the facts - Take time to present a measured, considered and considerate response, bearing in mind the timescales. In particular, if relevant medical records are no longer with the practice, obtain them from the health authority before you draft your letter. Likewise, if you will be making reference to any other individual whose comments are required, obtain those comments wherever possible. 
  • Respect patient confidentiality - Not all complaints are made by the patient personally. Where a complaint is made about the service provided to a patient who has the capacity to give a valid consent, that patient’s confidence must be respected.
  • Try to be sympathetic and understanding - Offer condolences if these are due. Do not be afraid of apologising if an error has been made.
  • Avoid blaming or judging others.
  • Avoid jargon – Use plain language that a non-medical professional would understand.
  • Type your response – This looks more professional and ensures the communication is legible.
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