The complainant’s paradox.

Here is Britain we are still reluctant to make a complaint.  We will smile sweetly as the hairdresser shows us their work in a mirror, leave a tip and then rush home to wash it all out and start again.  In restaurants and hotels, we would rather leave a poor review on trip advisor than cause a scene by voicing our concerns.  So when we do complain we generally have good reason to and we expect that our complaint will be acknowledged and resolved.

When you make a complaint about a public body you are walking on thin ice. You do it to make things better for others, so no-one else has to suffer but you have no idea how those in authority will make you suffer for your audacity.  Most whistle-blowers don’t know they are whistle-blowers.  Working for public bodies they simply do their job of reporting undue practice to their line manager only to be marched off the premises by security before they even have time to google PIDA.

Doing the right thing can be such a wrong thing to do.

So you make a complaint, perhaps about a hospital or the Border Agency or Department of Work and Pensions.  It matters not where you make your complaint, the process will be the same.  Slow and torturous.  You made it for the right reasons.  You made it because you have integrity and believe in honesty and justice.  You did it for the greater good of others.  You had no idea it would destroy you.

The system grinds slowly pushing you from pillar to post, denying you the evidence you need to prove your case and diverting you with false trails that all lead back to where you started.  And the years go by. One year in and then another.  You have overcome so many hurdles, written so many letters and emails, you can’t give up now for surely resolution is just around the corner.  You have an emotional investment in this complaint.  So much time and energy have been devoted to getting this far, was it all for nothing you ask yourself.  But your steadfast integrity will be your undoing for anyone who pursues a complaint for more than a limited time period must by default be deranged.  You have become a persistent complainer because the system has refused to acknowledge and resolve and to those in authority this is now your ‘life choice’ and you must pay the price.

They hold onto their complaints to avoid the grieving process,’  was the view of an NHS Complaint Manager dismissing bereaved complainants will a single tar brush.  ‘They won’t be satisfied until someone is hung, drawn and quartered,’  she added, which is an ideal way to avoid engagement.  It suggests that solutions have been offered and rejected where all too often no remedy is forthcoming until court action finally squeezes a contorted apology from the mouth of their solicitor.

Whistle-blowers and persistent complainants challenge the status quo

and for that, they must be vilified to deter others.









  1. EJ

    Absolutely true. And this is why policies for “vexatious” and persistent complainants have been drawn up all over the place. They were faced with increasing numbers of people, perplexed at them just not commenting on the facts of the matter, not taking evidence into account and acting on it and unwilling to accept stonewalling. So they decided the best way was to blame them. Label them negatively. If there were a tiny minority of such complainants, there would never have been policies drawn up, why waste the resources on useless policies. No doubt this was done on legal advice, after all there is such a thing (purportedly) as a vexatious litigant. Policies that fend off problems for them aren’t considered useless.

    Unless the numbers were tiny, if they weren’t increasing, no such policies would be needed, because it’s easy to swat one fly isn’t it. Just use a big fly swatter. But when there is a swarm, it doesn’t matter how big your fly swatter is, you can’t get them all. So you need to think of something else. Fly spray would do it, fly spray diffuses through the air poisoning all the flies – so they either fly off to avoid the spray or they die, twitching on the floor as their last piece of life ebbs away.

    So the vexatious and persistent complainant label, is the fly spray. All those complainants who won’t go away get peppered with it. There genuinely could be one or two person who are vexatious, but the vast majority aren’t, however fly spray doesn’t discriminate. It further humiliates those who have already endured lies, cover-ups, ignorance, banal sympathies that you feel that way. It implies you are unhinged, unbalanced. It is akin to the olden days when husbands who wanted a divorce got the doctor to diagnose their wife as deranged and lock her in an asylum.

    Those in authority need policies, how convenient to have one to explain away swathes of persistent complainants. Never mind that they are valid and justified complainants. They are flies in the ointment. They need to go away. So out comes the fly spray.

  2. lindsaycjackson

    Complaining is often difficult and painful. Most people in the UK do not complain often enough. The active discouragement of complaints by the very system intended to handle them is a threat to public safety, particularly in the NHS. Oliver Letwin himself asked for “More complaints please”, but the message has not got down to the hardened managers who actually deal with them. A change in the culture is needed in the organisations dealing with complaints. Nowadays complaints against the police are dealt with independently, so why not for other powerful and important public organisations?

    • EJ

      I think in the NHS and other public sector bodies, the culture has been so nasty for so long, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks as they say. They aren’t going down without a fight.

  3. John O'Brien

    In August 2016 an NHS Trust Chief Executive told me they would no longer accept me for treatment because of my persistent complaints about one of their consultants In December 2016 a County Council adult social services department advised me that they would no longer answer my queries because of their policy on persistent complaints. These complaints date back to event between August and October 2014. I am now in the final stages of collating evidence against both parties to take them to a court of law.

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