Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

NHS Complaints revolution?

Inquiry highlights shortcomings in the health service addressing patient concerns

Labour MP Ann Clwyd commissioned an inquiry into the way in which the NHS deals with complaints in England. The results concluded that the current approach adopted by the health service was ‘unresponsive and confusing’.

Many members of the public who have concerns about the standard of care which they or a loved one have received are unaware of how to make a complaint, or do not know the identity of the staff they wish to complain about and many were worried about the ramifications of making a complaint (such as whether it would affect their right to ongoing care or treatment).

The report concluded there had been a “decade of failure” and calls for a revolution in complaints handling. It recognised that the culture of delay and denial in the NHS needs to change.

Following the inquiry, 12 key organisations have subscribed to a pledge to improve the way complaints are addressed, including the Nursing & Midwifery Council, NHS England and the Care Quality Commission.

The pledge requires NHS organisations to improve training, hold those responsible for failings in care to account, a new hospital inspection regime and easy to understand annual reports on complaints.

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed the report and is confident that better handling of complaints will serve as “valued learning tools”. This, in conjunction with the lessons learned from the Stafford Hospital Inquiry, should lead to an improvement in the health service as a whole.

Whilst better complaints handling would undoubtedly lead to better communication, it still falls short of a legally enforceable duty of candour which has long been mooted. Such a duty would compel NHS staff to notify a patient or family when mistakes are made and provide explanations when things go wrong and might obviate the need to make a complaint in the first place.