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Too many older patients ‘suffering in silence’ over complaint concerns

Concern has been raised by the families of older patients this week who say that it is too difficult to complain about the hospital care or treatment their relative is receiving.

In a survey conducted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, more than half (51%) of family members said that it was difficult to complain when treatment or care of an older relative was not up to scratch.

The survey of 600 people on Gransnet, a social networking website for the over 50s, also found that of those who were concerned about the treatment of their older relative, only just over half (58%) actually complained.

And two-thirds (67%) of people who did complain stated that they didn’t believe that registering their views would make any difference.

Shockingly, over a third of respondents also said there were occasions when they were concerned about the care their relative was receiving, and around 31% also didn’t believe that staff had an adequate understanding of an older relative’s condition or care needs.

“The NHS is a life-line for many vulnerable older people but when things go wrong, too many are suffering in silence,” said Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

“I want people to be confident to complain, know their rights, and speak up when things go wrong so that the NHS can learn from mistakes and improve services for others,” he continued.

“NHS staff should make patients and their loved ones aware of how to complain, point them to available support, and make it absolutely clear that their future care will not be compromised.”

And Lara Crisp, editor of Gransnet, added that it wasn’t acceptable that over half of people with a concern felt that they could not complain, or that it wouldn’t make a difference if they did.

“Patients deserve better than this,” she said. “While we appreciate that services are stretched, communication with patients and their families must be improved. They should feel that their concerns are taken seriously and addressed properly.

“Hospital staff need to be supported and enabled to communicate better with patients so that everyone is clear about the complaints procedure and patients are reassured that this will not affect their future care.”

A spokesperson for the DH also said that it was determined to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, but when things do go wrong, it was incredibly important to listen to patients' and families' complaints or wider feedback.

“By learning from mistakes we can improve care; this is why we made complaints handling a crucial element of the hospital inspection regime,” they said.

"These findings show more could be done to help older people and families complain; we are clear that organisations should be open about how to complain and clearly communicate the support available to people who need help complaining.”

Top Image: shironosov

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