NHS complaints process “too complex”

  • Date: 20 March 2014

CONCERNS about poor NHS care often go unreported because of the complexity of the system, according to a new survey.

Patients and relatives find complaints procedures relating to GP practices, hospitals and care homes “utterly bewildering”, leaving many unsure of how to proceed.

The concerns have been raised by Healthwatch England which identified 75 types of organisations south of the border with a role in complaints handling and support, from councils and CCGs at a local level to national regulators.

The patients’ group commissioned a YouGov poll of 2,076 UK adults which found less than half of those who experienced poor care between 2010 and 2013 reported it. Just over two-fifths (43 per cent) said this was because they didn't know how to complain or provide feedback while half (49 per cent) said it was because they lacked confidence that their complaint would be dealt with effectively or thought that it wouldn't make any real difference.

Of those who did pursue their complaint, 13 per cent entered a formal complaints process. Healthwatch said this means the system is “failing to take any formal learning from almost nine out of 10 experiences of poor care.”

They also criticised the lack of consistent and easy-to-access complaints support services, adding: “Whilst NHS advocacy is fragmented, with the level of service varying across the country, advocacy for complaints in care is almost non-existent.”

They called for the complaints system to be simplified and for it to offer a more “joined-up” approach.

Healthwatch England chair Anna Bradley said: “It’s no wonder the public are left confused and frustrated. With so many organisations involved it’s difficult to know where to start, let alone having the strength and persistence to navigate the system on your own.

“A key improvement would be a straightforward and independent advocacy service to provide the support people need to make their voices heard.

“There will need to be very significant change in the complaints system if it is to benefit from the intelligence and insight that complaints can offer and use it to drive real improvement for the people actually using services.”

Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, agreed that the current complaints system is too complex and said she was working with the Department of Health, NHS England and regulators to make improvements.

She said: “We need significant change in the way complaints are handled across public services and that’s why we are calling for a single Public Ombudsman Service to be responsible for all complaints concerning public services, including health and social care in England."

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