In 7 years between 1982-88, 122 complaints were lodged against the Accident and Emergency department of King's College Hospital. A high percentage mentioned more than one aspect per complaint. Commonest were those regarding attitude (37.7%), missed diagnosis (36.6%), waiting time (32.8%), cursory examination (14.7%) and poor communication (11.5%). These causes of complaint are amenable to improvement. Training in interpersonal skills may reduce complaints of attitude. A high index of suspicion for the unusual and careful examination of patients would reduce complaints of missed diagnosis. Sufficient medical and nursing staff would reduce waiting time and improvements in communication with patients would keep this aspect to a minimum. Complaint investigation can be time consuming, when dissatisfaction is expressed explanations at the time of presentation by senior staff members may head-off a formal complaint.
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