“Deep dissatisfaction” in NHS complaints system

NHS complacency in complaints handling in England must end says a new independent report.

The government-commissioned inquiry – chaired by Labour MP Ann Clwyd and based on over 2,500 responses – found "deep dissatisfaction" with a system in which people did not bother to complain about poor care because the process was either too confusing or they feared to do so might jeopardise their future care or that of a loved one. Many patients were also concerned about the lack of independence in the complaints system.

The review reflects on what the government describes as a "decade of failure" and demands urgent action on complaints handling in the next 12 months. Among the recommendations are calls for board-level responsibility for signing off on all complaints within Trusts and evaluating what action has been taken in response. Trusts should also be made to publish an annual complaints report in plain English which should state complaints made and changes that have taken place.

On the ward level patients should be provided with easier ways to feed back comments and concerns about their care, including putting a pen and paper by the bedside and making sure patients know who they can speak to in order to raise a concern. Trusts should ensure patients on the ward are better informed, with the names of staff on duty prominently displayed along with other basic information such as visiting and meals times.

Ann Clwyd said: "When I made public the circumstances of my own husband’s death last year, I was shocked by the deluge of correspondence from people whose experience of hospitals was heart-breaking. It made me determined to do my best to get change in the system.

"We have given patients and their families a voice in this report, and their message to the NHS on complaints is clear. The days of delay, deny, and defend must end, and hospitals must become open, learning organisations. Our proposals put patients firmly into the driving seat at every level as never before, and we now expect to see progress within 12 months’ time."

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt welcomed the report saying: "We saw in Mid Staffs how badly things go wrong when patients and families’ complaints aren’t taken seriously. I want to see a complete transformation in hospitals’ approach to complaints, so that they become valued as vital learning tools. There can be no place for closing ranks or covering backs when patient safety is at stake.”

Link

NHS hospitals complaints system review