NHS Criticised for Complaints Handling
Last week, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman released a report highlighting the public’s growing frustration with the failure of the NHS to handle complaints effectively. The Ombudsman, an independent body which handles complaints concerning the NHS and government departments and bodies, has based its report on the complaints it has received in 2011 – 2012. The report, “Listening and Learning”, reveals staggering statistics which demonstrate a rise in the number of complaints made for inadequate communication and customer service.
Whilst the Ombudsmen has received an 8% increase in the number of overall complaints received regarding the NHS this year as opposed to last year, a substantial number of those complaints relate to complaints handling as opposed to actual treatment. The report marks a 50% increase in the number of complaints made regarding failings of the NHS to acknowledge its mistakes compared to the year before as well as a 13% increase in the number of complaints received this past year regarding poor explanations to complaints. The report details that there was an increase of 42% of complaints received due to insufficient solutions given for complaints, including false apologies.
The report acknowledges that many complaints received by the Ombudsmen are from members of the public who feel unhappy with the way their complaint was handled and who wish to ensure that others do not receive the same treatment. Factors including non-apologies and inadequate explanations have all contributed to a rise in failings by the NHS in their complaints handling. Perhaps most shockingly, the report notes that over 35% of complaints which were handled without the need for a formal investigation included concerns over unacceptable communication.
It is inevitable that mistakes may occur during medical care however the report proves that efficient communication, including thorough investigations, complete explanations, sincere apologies and effective remedies, can help to ensure that complaints are handled effectively without the need for a formal investigation. For the public, this can help to reach a satisfactory end without the need for an extended period of enquiries. Accusations regarding a ‘compensation culture’ may be unfair in light of this report, which reveals that the majority of the public simply want answers and honest apologies.
Click to read the full report.
Ipek is a solicitor specialising in medical negligence.