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NHS Complaints Managers

A Study of the Conflicts and Tensions in their Role

by Clare Xanthos

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Institution: London School of Economics and Political Science
Advisor(s): Dr. John Carrier
Degree: PhD
Year: 2004
Volume: 277 pages
ISBN-10: 1581122683
ISBN-13: 9781581122688


This thesis is an interdisciplinary study of the conflicts and tensions in the role of NHS complaints managers. The thesis sets out to explore the contradictions inherent in the role of complaints managers and the ways complaints managers deal with these contradictions.

The interdisciplinary theoretical underpinning of the research is informed by conceptualizations of the complaints manager in the specific socio-legal sense of ‘complaints handler’/ third-party dispute handler;’ a broader public administration framework, of ‘administrator’/ bureaucrat, and finally a wide-ranging sociological/ social psychological framework, as ‘social actor’. Thus the thesis draws on an eclectic range of literature from socio-legal studies, public administration, sociology, and social psychology. It also draws on non-theoretical social policy literature in relation to the policy context of the thesis.

In relation to methodology, the research uses a qualitative approach. It is based on in depth telephone interviews recorded with thirty NHS complaints managers, which were transcribed verbatim and are the focus of systematic analysis. The complaints managers’ interviews are supplemented with documentary analysis of job descriptions and person specifications of NHS complaints managers and email interviews with ‘NHS complaints experts’ (who are not complaint managers) who have a specialist knowledge of the complaints manager role.

Three key areas emerged as the principal findings of the research:
1) The complaints manager’s role encompasses inherent contradictions, regardless of the personal style or individual approach of the complaints manager;
2) Complaints managers exhibited opposing stances (that is very different responses/ reactions) to the inherent contradictions in their role in relation to ‘organization orientation’ versus ‘complainant orientation’;
3) There were different types of complaints managers. Accordingly, a typology of complaints managers was generated with specific reference to their responses and reactions to the inherent contradictions in their role, in terms of complainant orientation versus organization orientation.

In conclusion, the thesis argues that there are without doubt fundamental contradictions in the role of NHS complaints managers in terms of reconciling complainants’ rights with organizational requirements. However, ultimately, individual complaints managers respond and react very differently to the inherent contradictions in their role.