One-year audit of complaints made against a University Hospital Surgical Department

ANZ J Surg. 2012 Oct;82(10):671-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-2197.2012.06240.x. Epub 2012 Sep 5.


Background: There is relatively little in the medical literature relating to complaints about the healthcare process. The aim of this study was to report the frequency and content of patient complaints against a University Hospital Surgical Department. In particular, the study aimed to relate the number of complaints to the number of health-care episodes and to determine the frequency of patient safety incidents and subsequent medico-legal action.

Methods: Retrospective interrogation of a prospectively maintained Complaints Department database at a University Hospital for the calendar year 2009.

Results: Complaints relating to 360 aspects of the health-care journey in 113 patients were made. This translated into one complaint per 400 health-care episodes. Concerns about clinical care were cited in 31%, delays in the health-care process in 30%, communication issues in 19%, the institutional environment in 8% and poor discharge planning in 6%. Overall, 16 complaints (4%) were raised as patient safety incidents. Eighty-three per cent of complaints were addressed by a telephone conversation or a single letter response, 13% by a face-to-face meeting. Two per cent resulted in subsequent medico-legal action.

Conclusions: Although perceived in a negative way by health-care professionals, only 1 in 400 health-care episodes resulted in a complaint. Only a small number related to patient safety incidents or resulted in medico-legal instructions. Attention should focus on developing effective strategies to improve patient satisfaction with all aspects of the patient journey.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Hospitals, University*
  • Humans
  • Medical Audit*
  • Medical Errors / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Safety / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Patient Safety / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surgery Department, Hospital*
  • United Kingdom