Private healthcare patients 'should have NHS' rights

Busy ward Private patients cannot complain to the ombudsman unless they had NHS funded treatment

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Calls have been made for private healthcare patients in Wales to have the same rights as those on the NHS.

Private patients cannot complain to the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales unless they have received treatment commissioned and funded by the NHS.

Llanelli MP Nia Griffith said the gap in regulation must be addressed.

But the Welsh government said it had looked at the issue and has no plans to bring private health providers within the ombudsman's remit.

Currently, complaints about the private sector are referred to the provider themselves for internal investigation.

If the patient, or their family, is not satisfied with the outcome, the complaint can be reviewed by a senior hospital manager.

This process is in line with the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations' complaints code. It is a membership body for private and independent health providers.

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Public Services Ombudsman for Wales:

  • Legal powers to look into complaints about public services
  • Investigate complaints that members of local government bodies have broken their authority's code of conduct
  • Independent of all government bodies
  • Free of charge
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Finally, the complaint can be heard by an independent adjudication service, which which the association says is similar to the ombudsman process.

But there are concerns this does not allow for an independent overview, as it would with the ombudsman.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Nick Bennett said the current system was "unjust and inconsistent".

"I would be happy to discuss with the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh government the possibility of a similar arrangement being introduced in respect of private health care," he said.

'Totally unacceptable'

However, such a move would require a change in the law.

The MP Ms Griffith said it was "totally unacceptable" for the private sector to investigate itself.

"They really want to see investigations which are independent and they're not going to believe that an independent sector is going to really look properly and investigate properly any one of their own members; they want something completely independent," she added.

In England, there is a recommendation to extend the ombudsman's powers to cover private healthcare in the wake of the faulty PIP breast implants scandal.

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Case Study

'Overwhelmed by the complaint process' - widow Ruth Lewis talks about her experience

Ruth Lewis, from Llanelli, has been pursuing a complaint about the care her husband, Peter, 83, received at Spire Hospital, Cardiff.

He died in January 2011 following a knee replacement.

Mrs Lewis' complaints with Spire are still ongoing.

Hospital director for Spire Nicola Amery said she has been in close contact with Mrs Lewis and her concerns were being investigated.

"Until this investigation is complete it would be inappropriate to comment further," she added.

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