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Ombudsman reform only one part of the complaints puzzle, warns patient watchdog

15/06/2015

  • Complaints system is still too complicated and unresponsive, and as a result has limited impact on the way hospitals, GP surgeries and care homes operate, say patients.
  • Government has made some positive steps towards improvement, but reform must be accelerated and progress properly tracked to ensure it is having a positive impact for consumers.
  • Healthwatch England is calling on the Secretary of State to use the new Draft Public Services Ombudsman Bill to drive a comprehensive improvement programme on complaints.

The findings of the Francis Inquiry, the work of Ann Clwyd MP and Healthwatch England's own 'Suffering in Silence' report have all made a strong case for reform of the complaints system over the last few years. In the face of this consensus, during the last Parliament the Government's Complaints Programme Board helped to increase focus on tackling the complaints challenge. In particular including assessment of complaints handling as part of the CQC's inspections.

Yet the evidence collected by the Healthwatch network through our conversations with thousands of those of who have experienced the frustrations of the complaints system first hand suggests that people are not yet feeling the benefits.

Indeed new research over the weekend from the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman shows the public still aren't complaining when things do go wrong because they don't know where to go with their concerns, fear they won't be taken seriously and mostly think it will be more hassle than its worth.

Our own analysis suggests as many as 2,000 incidents a day across the NHS are going unreported as a result, with the number likely to be much higher when users of social care are factored in.

Healthwatch England is therefore today calling on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to take action with a seven point plan for reform that will create an effective and compassionate complaints system that both gives patients what they need and ensures the NHS and social care services can learn from their mistakes.

SEVEN POINT ACTION PLAN

1. Make it easier for everyone to complain - by giving one national organisation responsibility for providing patients and the public with improved information and education about how to raise concerns.

2. Create a single, properly funded complaints advocacy service - provided under the Healthwatch banner which would provide users of both the NHS and social care with the same level of support wherever they live in the country.

3. Drive up the quality of complaints handling - using the NHS constitution and complaints regulations to clearly set out people's right to complain and what they should expect in response.

4. Require every organisation involved in complaints handling to ensure people's complaints reach the right destination - removing the burden currently placed on patients to pursue their complaint.

5. Establish clear responsibility for capturing system-wide learning from complaints - identifying trends and ensuring national policy change properly addresses concerns.

6. Make it mandatory for every complaint, regardless of how it is made or which service it is about, to be recorded and reported to the HSCIC - enabling the system to track progress through a national measure of consumer experience of the complaints process.

7. Department of Health to conduct a review of the whole complaints landscape - consider simplification and streamlining of processes across the 70 plus organisations involved.

Healthwatch England welcome the announcement of the Government's Draft Public Services Ombudsman Bill in the Queen's Speech, which we believe provides an opportunity to accelerate the process of reforming the complaints system based on the actions above and transform the experience of consumers who have been let down by the system.

Anna Bradley, Chair of Healthwatch England, said:

"From day one of Healthwatch we were hearing from patients and their families about how poorly their complaints were being handled, and over the last three years we, along with many others, have gathered a wealth of evidence highlighting what needs to change.

"Whilst local Healthwatch have been doing a fantastic job challenging local services to improve their processes, we also need system change at a national level to transform the whole approach to how complaints are handled and lessons learned.

"We therefore urge the Secretary of State to use reform of the Ombudsmen as an opportunity to look at the complaints system as a whole, not just one part of the puzzle, to ensure consumers are able to get proper redress regardless of who they are complaining to".

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