The College of Optometrists

Dealing with complaints

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Key points

  • You should deal with complaints in a sensitive and timely manner.
  • You must be candid when things go wrong.
  • You should not discriminate against a patient who has complained.
  • If you are an NHS contractor, you must have a complaints procedure that you make available to patients. You should extend this to private patients.
  • You should try to resolve complaints in practice.
  • You can use the services of the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) to help resolve complaints.
  • You have responsibilities to provide information about complaints to outside agencies if requested.


A complaint is ‘An expression of dissatisfaction, either written or spoken, and whether justified or not, which requires a response’. There is no difference between a ‘formal’ or an ‘informal’ complaint. Both are expressions of dissatisfaction’.227

Complaints procedure

You should encourage patients to comment on the services they have received.
Feedback and complaints can be an opportunity to improve your service. You should use them to see how you can improve the services that you offer, and share lessons learnt from them.
You should investigate feedback which gives rise to cause for concern as if it were a complaint.
You should acknowledge a formal complaint within three working days.228
If you provide NHS services, you must have a written complaints procedure that you make available to patients.229, 230, 231, 232 A complaint that is made orally and is dealt with to the complainant’s satisfaction by the end of the next working day is not considered a complaint for this purpose. You should extend this procedure to private patients.
You should make sure your complaints procedure:
  1. is clearly displayed to patients
  2. is easy for patients to use and available in a format that they can understand 
  3. enables you to deal with complaints quickly and sensitively
  4. allows you to investigate complaints in a full and fair way
  5. maintains patient confidentiality
  6. gives clear outcomes for the patient, and
  7. contributes information to practice management and improvements.
If a patient makes a complaint you are likely to need to access their record and use identifiable information. You should make patients aware of who will see information about them and your safeguards for minimising risks to confidentiality.
You should keep a written log of complaints to monitor your performance in handling complaints and to identify possible areas for improvement.
If the complaint relates to clinical care, you should keep a record of the patient complaint in the patient record.
You should ensure that other members of the team for whom you are responsible:
  1. are familiar with the complaints procedure
  2. know how to deal with patients’ concerns and complaints, and
  3. know how to apologise and offer practical solutions.

Resolving complaints

You must give a helpful and honest response to anyone who complains about the services you have provided. 233
If a patient complains about the treatment they have received they have a right for their complaint to be heard and dealt with in a sensitive and timely manner. Doing so can help avoid the complaint escalating unnecessarily.
You should always take the complaints of children and young people seriously. You should help them in their complaint if their rights or interests have been denied or abused, if they are unhappy with the care they have received or because they have been denied care.
You should not discriminate against a patient who has complained. You should continue to treat them with respect and courtesy.
You should aim to resolve informal complaints at the time they are made, within the practice. If the complaint is formal you should:
  • send the patient a written acknowledgement within three days of receiving their complaint and explain how the complaint will be handled, with timeframes234
  • tell the patient if you cannot keep to the timeframe and why234
  • give the patient a named individual with whom they can liaise234
  • try to contact the patient verbally to discuss their concerns234
  • ask the patient what they want as an outcome234
  • offer the patient a face-to-face meeting to discuss their concerns. You should agree to a request by the patient to have someone with them at the meeting234
  • avoid being defensive when dealing with complaints
  • keep the patient informed about the progress in dealing with their complaint
  • deal with all the points raised in a complaint
  • offer an apology, where appropriate. Giving an apology does not mean you are admitting responsibility, it is a way of showing concern and understanding
  • if the patient’s complaint is justified, offer a fair solution, which may include offering to put things right at your own expense if you have made a mistake. At the end of your investigation, write to the patient explaining:
    • what you have decided
    • any practical solutions you can offer
    • whether you are going to make any changes to your practice as a result
  • if the patient wishes to take the complaint further, tell the patient that they can complain to the General Optical Council (GOC) or the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS).
You must keep records of the complaint, and relevant documents. This would include details of oral and written communication between you and the patient and a chronology of the investigation process. Any internal documents should be objective and non-judgemental.234

Providing information about complaints

If other bodies, such as the OCCS, the GOC or local health organisations, are involved in the complaint, you should provide helpful and honest information in response to a request as promptly as possible. Through your complaints procedure you should make the patient aware of who will see the information about them and the safeguards that are in place to minimise any risks to confidentiality.
If the GOC asks for information from you regarding a complaint, you must, subject to any statutory restrictions, give the GOC the information promptly. If you do not provide the information within 14 days, the GOC may seek a court order requiring the information to be produced, unless this is prohibited by any other enactment, for example the Data Protection Act 1998.
If a court asks for information from you regarding a complaint you must, subject to any statutory restrictions, give the information promptly.

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