Public services 'must learn from Stafford hospital scandal'

Stafford Hospital Stafford hospital was hit by a scandal over complaints by patients and staff

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Public services still need to learn lessons from the Stafford Hospital scandal on how to handle complaints, says a committee of MPs.

Concerns about failings at the hospital - expressed by patients and local doctors - were ignored.

The Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) wants changes including having a minister with responsibility for complaints handling.

It says there is a "culture of denial and failure" in public services.

The government said it was "committed to improving" services and the Stafford Hospital scandal had been a "turning point".

Call for revolution

In its report, the PASC says the NHS failed to "hear both the complaints of patients and their families and the complaints of their own staff", leading to "unspeakable disaster" at the hospital, run by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

Start Quote

As things are, most people believe there is no point in complaining ”

End Quote Bernard Jenkin PASC chair

The trust was criticised in February 2013 in a public inquiry headed by Robert Francis QC for causing the "suffering of hundreds of people" in its care between 2005 and 2008.

Across public services and in Whitehall, it notes, there is "complexity" and "confusion" over how to report a complaint and the terms used - "appeal" or "review" or "feedback".

"A complaint is a complaint... nobody should be shy of the term 'complaint'. Other euphemistic terms for 'complaint' should be banned," concludes the report, called More Complaints Please!

It says poor complaints handling alienates the public and affects the performance of an organisation,

The committee called for a minister for government policy on complaints handling to be appointed to provide "leadership from the top".

Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin said: "There needs to be a revolution in the way public services are run, and how the public perceives government.

"As things are, most people believe there is no point in complaining.

"The shocking collapse of care at Mid-Staffs hospital should be a warning to the whole public sector that too many managers in public services are in denial about what their customers and their staff think about them.

He added that the Francis Inquiry report on the hospital "gave no comfort that the culture of denial does not exist across most of the NHS, though we hope that is now changing."

He said the government itself did not comply with "best practice", and warned it needed to "lead by example".

"Unless and until we have a culture of leadership in public services that listens to, values and responds to complaints, from service users and staff, there will always be the potential for tragedies like Mid-Staffs, and opportunities to improve services and public confidence will be missed again and again," Mr Jenkin added.

A government spokesman said: "We are committed to improving public services. The tragic events at Mid-Staffordshire were a turning point for the NHS and the Francis Inquiry showed just how important it is that there is an open and transparent culture where complaints are listened to, and action is taken to improve services - we are committed to taking this vital agenda forward.

"We welcome PASC's work in this area, and will respond to the committee's report in due course."

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