Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

The Great Wall of Silence

Dame Julie Mellor, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, has accused the NHS of putting up a “wall of silence” when investigating hospital complaints.

The Ombudsman’s team is responsible for investigating complaints against hospitals where a patient feels that the hospital has not properly investigated their concerns. As part of this process, the Ombudsman revealed that hospitals have failed to adequately investigate 20 out of 28 incidents involving avoidable harm or serious incidents. The figures also reveal that out of all of the cases in which the Ombudsman found clear failings, hospitals only recognised these in 26% of cases.

Dame Julie has said “parents and families are being met with a wall of silence from the NHS when they seek answers to why their loved ones died or was harmed … our review found that NHS investigations into complaints about avoidable death and harm are simply not goof enough. They are not consistent, reliable or transparent, which means that too many people are being forced to bring their complaint to us to get it resolved”.

In addition to patients turning to the Ombudsman, the lack of openness in hospital investigations is also leading to increasing numbers of patients turning to legal action, which leads to an increase in legal costs for the NHS. More thoughtful, frank and accurate investigations could lead to a significant reduction in negligence cases, as many patients are satisfied with a simple acknowledgment of errors and evidence that steps will be taken to learn from them.

Dame Julie is now demanding a major overhaul to the way that hospitals investigate serious complaints. This includes investigations being carried out by independent clinicians, as opposed to close colleagues, which the investigation has found is often the case. Many investigations are also concluded without recourse to the medical records or statements from those involved in the patient’s care. Peter Walsh of Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) a charity dedicated to championing the rights of patients, said “The ombudsman’s findings are doubly worrying, as they were only reviewing cases where there has already been a complaint … if this is how the NHS investigates when there is a formal complaint, one has to wonder how it investigates when it is left entirely to its own devices”.

Rob Webster from the NHS Confederation has responded to the Ombudsman’s announcement, saying “ we urgently need to learn from what is working and fix what doesn’t, to ensure patients have complete confidence”.

The report, entitled “A review into the quality of NHS complaints investigations where serious or avoidable harm has been alleged”, can be found on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman website

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by medical negligence or are unhappy with the way a hospital complaint has been handled, contact our specialist lawyers on 0800 316 8892.