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Recent report on complaints about hospital care

I have seen a number of articles in the press recently following the latest report published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) about hospital complaints. The report, entitled ‘Complaints Matter’, reviewed the NHS complaints system by using its own inspection reports as well as information gathered from care providers such as GP practices, hospitals and care homes.  

Issues identified surrounding complaints handling

The CQC report highlights a number of concerns about the approach currently adopted by many treatment providers, including the following:

The report concludes that there is a wide variation in the way that complaints are handled.

While most providers have complaints processes in place, people’s experiences of the system are not consistently good.

There is a defensive culture, which means that concerns are not welcomed or learned from.

Many people do not get as far as making a complaint as they are deterred by confusing systems in place or worried about the impact that a complaint might have on the care provided to them or a loved one.

The report focuses heavily on the importance of encouraging an open culture where concerns are welcomed and discussed honestly and, for me, this is the key issue. If people do not feel comfortable raising concerns then issues can not be identified and improved. Alarmingly, Healthwatch England recently estimated that 250,000 incidents went unreported last year because people felt unable to complain.

When responding to a Freedom of Information request, a third of hospitals across England told the BBC that they don’t record complaints form ‘third parties’, i.e. anyone who does not personally experience the poor care. This clearly has huge implications for the number and type of complaint which is being investigated.  Many other hospitals state that they record complaints made on behalf of others as informal feedback, with no follow up being provided to the complainant.  The BBC also received responses from some hospitals which admitted that they simply don’t record these complaints at all.

As a solicitor acting for claimants who have suffered avoidable injury due to medical treatment I know that a large number of my clients are driven by the fact that they want to prevent the same thing from happening to anyone else. Seeing procedures being updated or training being improved, for example, can be of great comfort and makes patients feel as though they have not suffered in vain.

How will this change?

The CQC has demanded that the way complaints are handled in health and social care services must change. The CQC concludes in its report that they will take action on services that do not take complaints seriously.  From now on, their own inspection reports will include information on the way that the treatment provider manages complaints and concerns and will identify if improvements need to be made.

Whilst it is positive that the CQC report publicly reiterates the need for change in this area, it is deeply concerning that progress is not being made more quickly. Much of this is not new information but simply a further reminder of how little progress has been made to improve on the way that complaints are reviewed and actioned to improve standards of care.

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, is due to provide an update on progress made against the recommendations of the Francis Inquiry in the next few weeks. It is anticipated that he will focus heavily on the complaint systems in place and the need for a duty of candour in the health service.

It is vital that lessons are learned from healthcare providers carefully considering what has gone wrong when an untoward outcome arises.

If you would like further information about how to complain about medical treatment then please contact a member of our team who would be happy to assist you. Please also see our previous blog with some useful information and advice.

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