Older patients’ families struggle to complain about poor hospital care

THE families of older hospital patients find it difficult to complain about poor care with more than two-thirds feeling their complaint made no difference, according to a new survey.

Half also reported finding it difficult to raise concerns while 56 per cent felt their complaint was not listened to or taken seriously. A similar number (58 per cent) said they had not been clearly told how their complaint would be addressed.

The figures emerged in a survey by Gransnet, a social networking site for the over 50s, that was published by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).

More than 600 Gransnet members were asked about their experiences of complaining to the NHS on behalf of an older relative in hospital.

The ombudsman said it receives far fewer complaints from older people than would be expected given their high usage of NHS services. A previous report by the ombudsman highlighted that many older people are afraid to speak out when something goes wrong with their care and worry about what will happen to them if they do.

The Gransnet survey also revealed wider concerns about communication with older patients and their families. Forty per cent of respondents did not feel they were kept informed about their relative’s condition in hospital and were not given enough opportunities to discuss their care and treatment. One third felt they were not adequately involved in decisions about their older relative’s care and treatment.

Poor communication is a factor in around one third of all complaints the ombudsman service investigates about the NHS in England.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens said: “I want people to be confident to complain, know their rights, and speak up when things go wrong so that the NHS can learn from mistakes and improve services for others.

"NHS staff should make patients and their loved ones aware of how to complain, point them to available support, and make it absolutely clear that their future care will not be compromised.”

Gransnet editor Lara Crisp added: “It’s simply not acceptable that over half of people with a concern feel they can’t complain or that it won’t make any difference if they do. Hospital staff need to be supported and enabled to communicate better with patients so that everyone is clear about the complaints procedure and patients are reassured that this will not affect their future care.”