NHS complaints revolution 'needed'

Ann Clwyd MP Ann Clwyd has criticised some nurses for the care and compassion they gave to her late husband

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The culture of delay and denial over NHS complaints in England must come to an end, a review of the system says.

The government-commissioned inquiry - led by Labour MP Ann Clwyd - said too many patients found the current approach unresponsive and confusing.

It said it was putting the health service on a year's notice to improve accountability and transparency.

To achieve this, the review has got 12 key organisations to sign up to a series of pledges.

These include:

Start Quote

The days of delay, deny and defend must end and hospitals must become open, learning organisations”

End Quote Ann Clwyd
  • The Nursing and Midwifery Council to include new duties over complaints handling in its code of conduct.
  • A pledge from Health Education England to develop an e-learning course to improve training.
  • NHS England promising to work with local managers to hold hospitals and other providers to account.
  • The Care Quality Commission to place a strong focus on complaints in its new hospital inspection regime.
  • Hospitals will also be expected to publish annual reports in "plain English" on complaints.

The review was commissioned by the government after the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal.

Ms Clwyd was asked to lead it after she broke down in a BBC interview last December while describing the poor care her late husband had received.

She was sent more than 2,500 letters and emails from people describing similar problems and dissatisfaction with the way complaints are handled.

They said they were often unaware of how to make complaints or of the identities of staff they wanted to complain about.

They also said they feared reprisals if they did raise concerns.

Open hospitals

The report concluded there had been a "decade of failure" and called for a revolution in complaints handling.

As well as the steps mentioned above, it said relatively simple measures, such as providing patients with paper and a pen beside their beds and displaying the names of staff on duty, could also help.

Ms 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.

"The days of delay, deny and defend must end and hospitals must become open, learning organisations."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the report and said a full response to the Stafford Hospital inquiry and the reports that have followed, which include this one as well as others on healthcare assistants, mortality rates and patient safety, would be made before the end of the year.

He added: "I want to see a complete transformation in hospitals' approach to complaints so that they become valued as vital learning tools."

But patient groups questioned how committed the government really was.

Peter Walsh, of Action Against Medical Accidents, pointed out that the government appeared to be watering down the duty of candour called for after the Stafford Hospital scandal.

The public inquiry had suggested this should become a legally enforceable duty, but latest plans suggest this will only be applied to the most serious cases of harm.

Call for advice service

Mr Walsh said: "For all the good commonsense proposals contained in the report, they would be rendered useless if the government restricts the duty of candour in this way."

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "The NHS has an unfortunate tendency to push complainants away and pull down the shutters. That has to change."

The report comes as the health ombudsman calls for a 24-hour advice service for unhappy patients.

Writing in the BBC News website's Scrubbing Up column, ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor said: "Too often we hear of patients not having the confidence to raise a concern on a hospital ward."

She said patients and carers should be able to access advice on how to raise a concern "24 hours a day, seven days a week", and that "every patient, carer and relative would have the opportunity to raise an issue in person, by email or over the phone".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    No progress will be made until British management learn to accept complaints as an opportunity to improve and not use them as an opportunity for a witch hunt. The 'blame game' is one of those embarrassing British habits that is known throughout Europe. 'Heads Must Role', 'their position is no longer tenable' , 'not fit for purpose', 'accepted their resignation' it just goes on and on and on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    in principle i agree the NHS has failed in some areas, but i won't support the MP or any plan they have as its a clear attack on a weak point as propaganda to sell the NHS with lower public opinion. the most damning thing of all is if the public decide the government should sell the NHS off, who exactly will pay for treatment for serious injury? who will need medical insurance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Some commenting on here point the finger at career and image obsessed NHS CEOs and managers - and I think they are right.... Denying instead of investigating honestly complaints helps them up the greasy pole.

    However, we also need to shut down the blood sucking, ambulance chasing personal injury and medical mistake lawyers....

  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    On Monday morning, a marquee is set up in the hospital car park and all the hospital staff gather there. Every time somebody is required to do a job of work that is directly linked to patient care, they go and do it. Management meetings do not count. On Friday, if there is anybody left under the marquee, they are clearly surplus to requirements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    The NHS needs massive reform. If the British public physically handed over the money the NHS costs each and everyone of us, there would be mass outrage at the standard of service we get. We need a 21st century health service not a 1949 one protected by those who employ scare politics to guarantee their pointless positions. Our dog gets way better, cheaper and faster care. How can this be???

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    David Wilson @446
    "the truth is"

    Our current political elites - burdened with their own histories - will take it in turn to fail us, their alternate removal from the privileges of office a poor means to register dissatisfaction & anger, leaders content to wait their turn, with small promises to re-boot their careers. When 'sensible people' agree equal partnership, THEN we will see what's "needed"

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    422.Fiona MacHinery

    "I am suing the managers ........ "

    Good luck with it! One thing that is sadly rare nowadays in both public and private sectors is the concept of personal responsibility - anything with the potential to change that has to be welcome. My commiserations for whatever led you to be in this position.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    I live in the Netherlands. Last week I had to go to the hospital for a blood test. I arrived at 9.50am and by 10.01,
    I did that at the local NHS hospital, app at 8.15 am, arrive at 8.10, out by 8.20 and got the results 2 days later at my local GP.

    But hey lets bash the NHS for the failing of insufficent staffing, and yes I have experienced that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Tim - keen to avoid the debacle that is Medicaid - UK govt, especially tories, have form when it comes to importing Americana regardless of the merits or lack of.

    I would much sooner trust a German of French govt to manage the implementation of change than the array of corrupt lobby reps here in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Oh come on. We all Know that poor managers are the problem in all walks of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Maybe if successive Governments stopped fiddling with the NHS just to suit their own political agendas then we wouldn't be in this position now. How can you possibly run a care based service just by ticking boxes and meeting targets - ridiculous. Once this vile ConDem Government has privatised the NHS by the back door see how bad things become then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    437. Ron

    +1 Ron

    Why is he wrong, when the greats never went to a college or university for more than a year. The list is long, and a large percentage got into the top 10 universities in the world and shunned them for their sheer stupidity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    442.TW "failure of communication"

    Add hospital internal communications.

    My mum's weight bearing status (which means to physio or not) was changed by the orthopaedic consultant - it too over a week to get to the ward / the physios. So they left her by an open window blowing in mould ridden air when she should have been out of bed and hey presto a chest infection and she died.

    Bad comms kills!

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    The trouble with big organisations is that those responsible for failure (usually those at the top) can hide themselves away from scrutiny and responsibility and when found out are merely quietly spirited away into retirement by their peers. Investigations must start from the top down.

  • Comment number 455.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Complaints procedure is a sham, my Father went into hospital December last year for something that was treatable three months later dehydrated and emaciated died. Went through the complaints procedure their first response got his name wrong and then wrote 4 pages of complete lies. Didn't apologize even though neglect was witnessed by 5 people. Second response more lies, no apology, no justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    Attitude is the key parameter. Someone with a nursing degree can be cold and uncaring, and think they are on a career line. Or, they can really care about people and learn wisdom in dealing with people and their profession. We lack wise people in the public sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    Like Gove,Hunt is nothing more than a Murdoch plant placed in the heart of government after years of induction within the News International mafia.These two ex journalists are looking to privatise two of the country's most important public sectors on behalf of greed driven, profit seekers like Murdoch.Quality is being risked in order to maximise the profit that can be made by speculators.

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    If I am not mistaken, our current politicians tend to make a shambles of most things they do. What a good idea it is then for them to get together and tell the NHS how to do things. That way they can pass on their failings to another organisation.

    Politicians should stick to misleading the public where they can do less harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    I'm sure Dan Snow would be able to find some historical reference about complaints in the NHS for us all to enjoy.
    He seems to be rolled out when there is the slightest historical interest ,
    What's up have all the history series dried up and your looking after mates mates ??


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