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Complaints in primary care arising from bereavement

Jane Cowan (MPS Risk Consulting, Leeds, UK)
Julie Wilson (MPS Risk Consulting, Leeds, UK)

Clinical Governance: An International Journal

ISSN: 1477-7274

Article publication date: 23 October 2007




The purpose of this paper is to review a sample of complaints referred to MPS in order to throw light on the relationship between bereavement and complaints directed at primary healthcare services.


A review of a sub‐set of data from a study of primary‐care complaints referred to MPS over a six‐month period during 2006. The method combined both quantitative and qualitative analyses of complaints made after a patient has died.


Delays in the diagnosis and/or treatment of malignancies and cardiac problems were the most common reasons given for the complaint. This was especially true in the case of relatively young patients (under 65). Interpersonal and administrative problems also featured, but to a lesser extent than clinical issues. The majority of complaints were directed at male GPs. There was little evidence that the complaints stimulated practices to conduct significant event audits.

Research limitations/implications

The sample was drawn from complaints referred to MPS by members in need of assistance. Members are by no means obliged to notify MPS when they are the subject of a complaint, and in most cases, practices are able to deal with complaints without calling on MPS for assistance. The sample may therefore be skewed toward more problematic/complicated complaints.

Practical implications

Several risk‐management lessons can be drawn from the study: it is evident that there is a need for practices to develop protocols for dealing with bereavement sensitively and to take the time to explain relevant aspects of the deceased's illness and treatment to the bereaved.


The nature of the data offers a window on the dissatisfactions and needs of bereaved family members.



Cowan, J. and Wilson, J. (2007), "Complaints in primary care arising from bereavement", Clinical Governance: An International Journal, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 296-304.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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