Poor communication sparks more complaints

  • Date: 12 November 2012

INSINCERE apologies and poor communication are among the factors behind a rise in NHS complaints in England, according to the health service ombudsman.

A new report reveals increasing dissatisfaction amongst patients who have criticised the NHS for failing to provide an adequate remedy or proper apology when things have gone wrong.

In one case seen by the ombudsman, a bereaved daughter was told: “Death is rarely an ideal situation for anyone”, and that “truth be told your mother probably said her goodbyes long before the final moments.” Another complaint was made by a man who was called a “baby” by a surgeon because he was anxious about having a general anaesthetic.

The report, Listening and Learning, gives an overview of NHS complaints made to the ombudsman in 2012-2012. During the year, it received 16,333 complaints. Just under 11,000 were redirected to other organisations or back into the NHS complaints system. A further 1,000 were withdrawn by the complainant while the ombudsman investigated 4,399.

Last year there was a 50 per cent rise in complaints from people who felt the NHS had not “acknowledged mistakes in care”, from 1,014 to 1,523. And there was a 42 per cent rise in complaints about inadequate remedies being offered, such as poor apologies, up from 1,163 to 1,655.

The findings have prompted ombudsman Julie Mellor to call for improvements to NHS complaints handling. She said: “All too often the people who come to us for help are unhappy because of the careless communication, insincere apologies and unclear explanations they’ve received from the NHS.

“The NHS needs to get better at listening to patients and their families and responding to their concerns.”

The report also highlights the continuing problem of GPs “unfairly or hastily” removing patients from practice lists following disputes and disagreements. Despite issuing a warning about this a year ago, the ombudsman has seen complaints of this kind rise by 16 per cent.

Julie Mellor said: “Our casework tells us there needs to be a clear shift in the attitude and practice of some GPs towards complaints. Our concerns about how GPs are handling complaints about their practices need to be addressed as a priority.”


Listening and Learning: The Ombudsman’s review of complaint handling by the NHS in England 2011-12

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