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Communication, Complaints and Feedback Process.

The HSE has a transparent and easily accessible complaints and feedback process. We will endeavour to address complaints; courteously, efficiently, fairly, promptly and within timelines agreed and in accordance with due process.

Supporting Staff: Training

Communication strategies for different types of complaints

It is essential that staff receive adequate training in dealing with all types of complaints including the following:

  • Managing Unreasonable Complainant Behavior
  • Repetitive Complaints/Persistent Complainer
  • Unresolvable Complaints

Managing Unreasonable Complainant Behaviour

  • HSE policy and procedures for managing violence and aggression are to be adhered to in these circumstances. (Link)
  • Staff training in dealing with these challenges will help to achieve a good outcome for the Complainant and the staff.
  • It is important that staff try to understand why the Complainant is being angry and aggressive e.g. frustration, grief, etc., and to address the situation by:
    • Being respectful and helpful
    • Giving the Complainant your individual attention
    • Not attempting to lay blame, be defensive or argue
    • Remaining positive
    • Not taking anger as a personal attack

Repetitive Complaints/Persistent Complainer

When frequently receiving complaints from the same people it is important that their complaint is not dismissed and that each complaint is appropriately dealt with by HSE procedures for managing complaints.

Even if complaints are being received from a persistent complainer, they may each be a valid complaint and must be managed to ensure the validity of each complaint and to obtain any possible learning and quality improvement as a result of the complaint.

Unresolvable Complaints

The HSE must determine a point at which the complaint is closed if all avenues for resolution have been explored, including an external review of the complaint by the Ombudsman/ Ombudsman for Children or other professional or regulatory bodies, and resolution of the complaint cannot be achieved.

This will be decided on by the relevant Complaints Officer in conjunction with the Hospital Group Chief Executive Officer or Community Healthcare Organisation Chief Officer and the Complainant will be informed of the decision.

The Complainant will be informed that for any further investigation of their complaint to take place, they must provide the Complaints Officer with new and substantiated evidence in writing.

Communication by the Complaints Officer with staff member involved in the complaint investigation

  • Communication with the staff member/service involved may be made by the Complaints Officer through the Service Manager or by the Complaints Officer directly
  • Communication with the staff member/service involved in the complaint should include:
    • A statement indicating that a complaint has been received and giving the date and service areas referred to in the complaint.
    • Enclose details of the complaint together with summary points the Complainant wishes to have addressed.
    • Request a written report that addresses the key points raised.
    • Date by which the report should be returned to the Complaints Officer (i.e. within 10 working days).
  • Every effort must be made to comply with the timeframe as outlined above.

However, there may be special circumstances where the Complaints Officer will extend the timeframe due to the unavailability of staff member, for example, he/she is on annual leave.

  • Invite the relevant staff member to take part in a local investigation of the complaint.
  • Inform them of their right to be accompanied by a relevant support person e.g. trade union, staff association representative, work colleague, etc.).
  • Invitation to contact the Complaints Officer to discuss details.
  • Give assurances in relation to confidentiality.
  • Provide support, advice and help, particularly where allegations of a serious nature are made.
  • Staff should always be kept informed and updated on progress of complaint investigation.


Receiving Verbal Complaints


  • Listen carefully to the issues being raised by the complainant.
  • Be respectful and helpful.
  • Give the complainant your individual attention.
  • Do not lay blame, be defensive or argue.
  • Remain positive and do not take anger as a personal attack.


  • Identify if there are multiple issues relevant to the complaint and separate each issue.  Attempt to identify any hidden or underlying issues that may exist.


  • Summarise the main issues relevant to the complaint

Thank the Complainant

  • Thank the complainant for taking the time to make the complaint.

Empathise and Explain

  • Empathise and acknowledge the feelings of the complainant.
  • Express regret or apology.
  • Explain what action you will take.

Now Act

  • Determine the most appropriate action for the management of the complaint.
  • Contact line manager and complaints officer as applicable.
  • Update complaints log.

The A.S.S.I.S.T. model of communication was developed and is owned by the Medical Protection Society (MPS).

It was developed to assist staff in the discussion of adverse events with patients/Service Users and/or their families/support person(s).    This model may also be used effectively to assist staff in their communication with Service Users during the complaints process. 

S: SORRY    

Further information on the A.S.S.I.S.T model

Supporting Documents: ‘Sample language to assist clinicians in open disclosure discussions