Healthwatch have published a report outlining their findings regarding the NHS hospitals complaints process, now that it has been nearly 7 years since a public inquiry into its failings in this area.

The inquiry initially showed that improving the complaints processes of hospitals should be a main priority of NHS trusts.

Evidence shows that the majority of people who make complaints don’t do so for compensation, but rather to improve the system for others. However, the Care Quality Commission found that a third of people don’t report issues they have faced in the worry that it will not make a difference.

In order for patients to feel comfortable and confident in making complaints, they need to see that other people’s complaints have been taken seriously, actioned and that changes have been implemented. Through sharing this information with the public, more people will be transparent about their experiences, further allowing hospitals to make changes and improve their services. However, Healthwatch found that only 38% of trusts make information on the changes they have made in response to complaints public. Even when trusts have reported changes, the information available is often high-level and contains little information about the actual changes made.

Trusts are legally only obliged to provide information to those who specifically request it. In order to test this, Healthwatch contacted 15 randomly selected trusts to see how easy this information was to get hold of. It was found that many members of staff were unaware of the existence of annual complaints reports, and those who were aware did not know how to locate it. In some cases, Healthwatch were told to submit either a formal request in writing or a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, but following this Healthwatch received no response. Out of the 15 requests made, only 4 trusts were able to provide any complaints information. Not only does the lack of transparency affect public perception of how trusts deal with complaints, but it also prevents other trusts learning from their colleague’s mistakes. The unfortunate reality is that trusts are making the same mistakes over and over again, and this could so easily be avoided.

To give people confidence that speaking up can make a difference, Healthwatch state that a shift in mind-set across the NHS hospitals when dealing with complaints is critical. They call for improved transparency between the trust and its patients through submitting regular and detailed reports of the complaints made. In order to do this, they believe in developing and supporting the hospital staff and encourage a system-wide approach, developing a single organisation to act as a national complaints standards authority in order to get every trust up to speed.

How can we help?

Karen Reynolds is the head of the Derby Clinical Negligence team and is also accredited to be on the panel of solicitors for AvMA, Action against Medical Accidents, an independent patient safety charity, providing advice and support to patients.

If you are concerned about care which you or a loved one have received, please contact a member of our national team for a free, informal discussion;

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham) on 0845 272 5677 karen.reynolds@freeths.co.uk

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Milton Keynes) on 01865 781019 carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk

Jane Williams, Partner (Leicester/Nottingham) on 0845 272 5724 jane.williams@freeths.co.uk

For further information please also visit our website at: http://www.freeths.co.uk/legal-services/individuals/clinical-negligence/