NHS 'falling short on complaints handling'

Nurse with patients The Which? survey shows there is still a long way to go on complaints handling

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The NHS still has a long way to go to improve the way it handles complaints, although there are signs of improvement, a survey suggests.

The NHS has been heavily criticised over its complaints system in the wake of the Stafford Hospital scandal.

The poll of 4,000 people in the UK by Populus for consumer group Which? found just a quarter were happy with the way their complaint had been handled.

But this was a rise from 16% two years ago.

The survey showed more than half felt their complaint had been ignored - more than in other parts of the public sector - and 43% were "dissatisfied" with the outcome.

But four in 10 who have had a problem reported not even complaining - although this was again a slight improvement on the picture two years ago.

Improving complaints handling was one of the central themes of the public inquiry into the poor care at Stafford Hospital.

'Simply unacceptable'

A government-commissioned inquiry into complaints last year - led by Labour MP Ann Clwyd - said too many patients found the current approach unresponsive and confusing.

In response, hospitals were ordered to publish regular updates on complaints and make it clearer to patients what they had to do when they were unhappy with their care.

While these measures applied to England only, ministers in Scotland and Wales are also making improvements.


Many of these changes are only just bedding in, but Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said the survey showed the reforms were "beginning to have an effect" although more needed to be done.

Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter agreed the poll was a "positive sign" that standards were improving in England.

"We want a culture of openness in all our hospitals," he added.

But Katherine Rake, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: "It is simply unacceptable that more than half of people who make complaints still feel like they are being ignored.

"If the health and social care system is serious about driving patient-centred improvement then the complaints system needs to be radically simplified."

Earlier this year, the patient watchdog produced a report showing that more than 70 organisations were involved in complaints handling in the NHS and social care systems.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    It's time to cut some slack for the over worked Doctors and Nurses who do an amazing job in tough times. During a 2 week stay in 2009, the care received was amazing.

    Things did go wrong, but rather than jump up and down moaning, being in hospital was THE most humbling experience of my life and the respect I have for those doing the job is a lasting one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Beware of unintended consequences.

    A while ago, I declined a demand from a parent to prescribe antibiotics to a child with a simple cold. The complaint took many hours of my time to deal with. Although there was a "don't misuse antibiotics" campaign at the time, I was heavily leant on to apologise.
    Result: I am now reluctant to refuse such demands, even when such a prescription is bad medicine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    It would be nice, if we could make this a 2 way process, where we [the workers] got to complain about the rude, the late,. the smelly, the arrogant and aggresive patients

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    What is the point of this "24-hour complaint" response? Is it to further demoralize the front-line of doctors, nurses, radiographers, physiotherapists et al? To a (wo)man they are striving to deliver an excellent service inclusive of the urgency and severity of the need for medical intervention. Yet to please the masses they are being pilloried as if everyone else is perfection itself - hypocrisy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I've been in and out of hospitals on a regular basis as an adult, I was in for a period of 9 days (twice) for observation. Plus the times I have been in and out for another medical problem I have. Not once have I ever had to complain, the staff have always been polite and helpful. The nurses seem overworked to me. The food was not too bad (not enough but not too bad).


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