Intended for healthcare professionals

Editor's Choice

The value of complaints

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 07 February 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:0
  1. Fiona Godlee, editor, BMJ
  1. fgodlee{at}

    Junior doctors are our future medical colleagues and will be our lifeline when we and our families need medical care. We must value and support them. This week we launch a new series for “the competent novice.” Written by some of medicine’s best educators, it gives practical advice on how to master key aspects of being a doctor. It will cover lifelong learning, dealing with stress, confidentiality, time management, decision making, managing the “take,” discharge planning, and the interface with other health professionals.

    One thing all doctors need to master is how to handle complaints from patients. In the first article Judith Cave and Jane Dacre outline strategies for reducing the likelihood of complaints and dealing with those that do occur (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39455.639340.AD). Most patients complain, not for financial compensation, but so that others won’t go through what they have had to. Learning how to apologise when something goes wrong is a crucial skill. As Emma Cuzner of the Medical Defence Union writes in a letter this week, saying sorry is not an admission of liability, and it may be all the patient wants (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39479.531343.3A).

    Editors also have to know how to say sorry, and readers and contributors should know how to complain if they wish to. The BMJ’s formal complaints procedure has been running for two years, and details of it are available online ( We welcome complaints as they provide a spur for improvement, and we aim to respond quickly, courteously, and constructively. In case a complainant isn’t satisfied with our response, we list the other avenues he or she can pursue, including contacting the Committee on Publication Ethics and the Press Complaints Commission.

    The appearance of short obituaries after BMJ Careers has prompted a recent flurry of complaints. (We’ve had no complaints about this from our international and retired readers as their journals don’t carry BMJ Careers, nor from users of, for whom the print journal is no doubt an arcane irrelevance.) Making any change to the obituaries in the BMJ is one of the best ways to ensure we hear from readers, and this time has been no exception. You will, however, be pleased to know that we have listened and that we have a plan. We will reunite the two obituaries pages and move them further forward so they sit after Practice and before Views and Reviews.

    We’ll do this as soon as we’ve developed new content for the page backing on to Minerva. Our plan is to make this a fun, interactive medical education page for doctors of all ages, though we hope it will particularly appeal to junior doctors. Various options include a regular statistics question, a picture quiz with radiological and clinical images, a short interactive case report, and medical sudoku. If you have ideas for the page, please send them to our junior doctor editor, Amy Davis (adavis{at}