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Dos and Don’ts of dealing with a patient complaint


Dos and Don’ts of dealing with a patient complaint

More and more therapists and counsellors are registered with voluntary regulators: CNHC, ACP, BACP to name a few. Whilst undoubtedly positive for your reputation to be a member, part of the role of the regulators is to receive complaints and act upon them – these could range from an allegation of not adequately advising on all treatment options, to the alleged sexual assault of a patient.

If you are found to have broken the rules of your regulatory organisation, sanctions can be imposed and are often made publically available – this can have serious career-limiting and reputational implications: removal from the register is a very real likelihood in serious cases.

Would you know what to do if a patient complained about you?

  • Do:
    1. Gather the evidence: go back to the patient file and read the notes you made (assuming you did); look at dates of appointments and keep a copy of all of this material – it could be invaluable later
    2. Speak to witnesses: did anyone else witness the incident or see the patient? Can they write down what they saw / heard / observed and give that to you?
    3. Prepare your account: write down your best recollection of events; put this in chronological order and include as much detail as possible. Do not leave anything out
    4. Get early advice: think about speaking with a specialist professional discipline lawyer – time and money can be saved by approaching a complaint correctly from the start; taking proper advice could alter the outcome in your favour
    5. Engage with the regulator: rarely is it in your interests to put your head in the sand
    6. Think about who you need to tell: do you have professional liability insurance; do you need to tell them about a possible claim; does your supervisor need to know?
  • Don’t:
  1. Respond immediately: take note of the deadline provided by the regulator and do your best to provide a considered response in that time. If you cannot get the advice or gather the evidence you need before then, ask for more time, most regulators have a provision allowing for this
  2. Try and speak with the complainant: complaints are not usually retracted once made and to try and persuade a patient to do so would be a very serious matter. Do not attempt to speak with them and reason the matter out (unless directed by the regulator – known as mediation) as it is unlikely to be in your interests
  3. Ignore the complaint: regulators can make a decision about a complaint without you actually being involved in the process. In these circumstances, they only have one account and it is harder for a fair decision to be reached
  4. Panic: although this seems obvious, it is a reaction that will mean that you stop thinking straight and become unable to make sensible decisions.

Contribution from Julie Norris, regulatory partner at law firm Kingsley Napley LLP t: 020 7814 1290 /

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