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05.12.14

A third of hospitals turning away ‘citizen whistleblowers’

A third of hospitals across England are turning away concerned citizens who wish to report incidents of poor care, according to new figures revealed by Healthwatch. 

Through a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to 164 trusts, the national consumer champion in health and care received 123 responses. Of these, a worrying 46 answered ‘no’ when asked whether or not they formally record complaints made by third parties or ‘citizen whistleblowers’.

Under the current regulations anyone is allowed to make a complaint. Yet when Healthwatch asked about each hospital’s policies they received a variety of responses. For example, some reported that such incidents are considered general feedback but are not formally investigated and they are not included in their official complaints figures reported to the Health and Social Care Information Centre. 

Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch, said: “Hospital patients often feel incredibly vulnerable and too scared to complain when they receive poor care. And yet widespread misapplication of the rules is preventing concerned citizens standing up on their behalf.” 

The FoI request also highlighted that just 30 trusts, out of the 123, investigate citizen whistleblower incidents. Yet, between 2011 and 2014, these trusts recorded 8,448 complaints made by citizens, 18% of the 46,753 complaints made overall. 

“Our findings indicate that where trusts are recording complaints raised by these ‘citizen whistleblowers’ they account for a fifth of all cases, so to ignore them presents a huge risk in terms of addressing both the sheer number of individual incidents of poor care and the overall source of feedback they can offer,” said Bradley.

Sir Robert Francis QC, who has been leading an independent review into whistleblowing in the health service, said that the figures Healthwatch uncovered are “concerning”. 

“Public and patient complaints do not come within the remit of my review” he admitted. “However, it is vital that healthcare providers listen and act on concerns from whatever source they come. Unless they do so they are unlikely to be fulfilling their commitment to be open and transparent learning organisations focussed on meeting the needs of their patients.” 

In response, NHS England stated that the health service can learn from “all” comments and complaints that people want to offer. 

Neil Churchill, the organisation’s director for patient experience, said: “This is why we have across the service radically improved our systems for gathering feedback and acting on it in real time.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@nationalhealthexecutive.com

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