Complaints handling in health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland
: an interactional approach

  • Carol Stitt

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research examines complaint calls in the public healthcare setting to address claims that some service users have been dissatisfied with Trusts' handling of complaints. Rather than apply a traditional social scientific method, this research takes an interactional approach to analyse real recordings of initial telephone encounters between complainants and call
handlers. This has permitted a detailed examination of the interactional structures of complaints handling calls, displaying systematic features and recurrent phases of activities across the dataset.

This empirical study is based on a collection of telephone recordings gathered at Health and Social Care Trusts throughout Northern Ireland, amounting to over four and a half hours of naturally occurring data. Each recording was
meticulously transcribed and analysed using an inductive method known as Conversation Analysis (CA) which takes as its core concerns, sequence, and action. Using the CA toolkit, the data reveal some valuable insights into
complaining in institutional talk and show how the norms and values of the institution emerge in and through the talk as systematic features.

The findings from this research provide unique and detailed understandings of how the complaints handling call progresses. Beginning with call handler methods for eliciting the complaint to the complainant's production of the experience as a narrative account, through to institutional business where a distinctive syntactic offer format emerges as the call handler orients to problem-solving.

In examining how talk is formulated in this domain, it will be possible to produce outcomes that provide linguistically informed contributions to Trusts for future call handler training. Overall, this work contributes to knowledge by providing original research on an interactional environment on which little
was previously known. Furthermore, it will provide a basis on which to build
future research in this distinctive institutional setting
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCatrin Rhys (Supervisor) & Karyn Stapleton (Supervisor)

Cite this