This chapter examines the development of patient complaints in the 1970s and early 1980s. It centres on three areas. The first concerns the activities of patient-consumer organisations around complaining. Groups such as the Patients Association and the CHCs played an important role in informing patients about complaints procedures and assisting them to make complaints, as well as using patient complaints as a tool to point to wider failings within the health service. Secondly, patient-consumer organisations also lobbied for the reform of complaints procedures. Complaints mechanisms in hospitals and family practitioner services were re-examined and reinforced, partly as a result of consumer group pressure. Finally, the capacity of the patient to complain was further strengthened by the introduction of the Health Service Commissioner, or the Ombudsman, in 1973. Complaint, this chapter will suggest, was an area of disputed territory that brought patient-consumers into direct conflict with the medical profession. For doctors, patient complaints were a threat to their ability to practise as they saw fit and posed a fundamental challenge to their power and authority. Yet, for patient-consumer organisations, complaint was both a vital consumer right and an opportunity to improve services for individuals and the wider population.
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