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The Patients Association calls for urgent reform of the Complaints system.

A new report co-authored by MP Ann Clwyd and NHS chief executive Professor Tricia Hart, calls for urgent action into how complaints by patients and relatives have been handled in the NHS. The report has commitments from key NHS organisations in England, including the Royal College of Nursing, the General Medical Council, Care Quality Commission and Monitor.

The review was commissioned by David Cameron and follows the Francis report into the failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. Robert Francis QC reported problems could have been spotted earlier if staff had listen to the concerns of patients and relatives, who were often neglected and ignored.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has supported the findings of the report and has said ‘’it is incredibly important to make sure we have a structure where people learn from mistakes and hospitals and care providers have a culture where there is openness and transparency’’.

The report concluded that:

  • The attitude of the NHS to complaints must change, complaints should be welcomed, not ignored
  • Patient advocacy must be improved
  • The Department of Health must fund patient groups to work to support patients and improve the complaints system
  • There should be a conversation between the complainant and the provider at the outset of a complaint, not just a letter
  • PALS and complaints managers to be completely independent from NHS trusts
  • Commissioners and regulators should establish clear standards for complaints handling

The review looked at 2500 accounts of poor care and lack of compassion. One read ‘When visiting my wife… after an operation to mend her broken hip, I asked a nurse for help as she was being very, very sick. She announced, ‘I am a graduate. I don’t do sick’ and left me to deal with the situation.’’ The staff was often described as offhand, rude and callous.

The Patients Association has today said that reform of the complaints system cannot wait any longer after the release of yet another report which suggests that failings in the system are continuing to hinder the ability of the NHS to listen to complaints and improve their services as a result.

NHS trusts often see complaints as a problem to be managed rather than an opportunity to learn and improve.  Complainants are given responses that are inadequate and fail to answer key questions. They also frequently face lengthy delays in obtaining answers to the most simple of questions. The Patients Association also recognises the concerns raised in the report about the Parliamentary Ombudsman.  Patients who contact its Helpline often express frustration that the Ombudsman does not accept many cases for investigation.

Speaking about the report, Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said  “We fully agree that the NHS must change its culture and ensure that in future it welcomes complaints, rather than automatically becoming dismissive and defensive. Patient advocacy and support must improve and we are keen to play our part in that through our Helpline.  The complaint process should be one based on conversation rather than simply letter writing.

We hope that more work will not be carried out to produce standards for complaints handling. Our work in Mid-Staffordshire has already established those standards, as was recognised by the Francis Inquiry.

There cannot now be any more reports into what is wrong with the system. We need to focus on what needs to happen to make things right.  We would urge the Government to create the complaints commission as a matter of urgency, and we look forward to working as part of that process to improve the system.

However this process must be swift. The problems with the complaints system have been clear for many years. The NHS cannot further fail patients by wasting this opportunity to resolve them”.

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