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17.06.15

Four-fifths of complaints to PHSO are about NHS

Nearly 80% of all complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) are about the NHS in England, a new report has revealed.

The other 20% of complaints the service receives concern government departments and their agencies, such as the Border Force, DVLA and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Most NHS investigations are about hospital trusts, followed by GP practices and then mental health trusts. 

The report contains summaries of 163 investigations completed in October and November 2014 by the Ombudsman service. During this period it made final decisions on 618 cases and upheld 41% of these complaints.

The report outlines shocking failings of care. One case included a patient with dementia who was left on a trolley in A&E for more than 33 hours and then left in an assessment unit for a further 42 hours.

The Ombudsman service's investigation found that the patient had to wait in both departments far too long and nurses did not provide an appropriate care plan for him and that University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust's response to the complaint gave no reassurance that the failings would not happen again.

In another instance a family could not be with their mother in her final hours although she was just the other side of a curtain, on a hospital bed at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. Her family were only allowed to see her 45 minutes after she had died.

Investigators found that there were failings in how staff communicated with the patient's children and how they treated them and that the trust's complaint handling fell short of the expected standards.

A case involving an ambulance trust centred on paramedics that left a frail woman in her 80s home alone with inadequate support although she was suffering with sickness and diarrhoea and had soiled herself.

The Ombudsman found that the patient should have been taken to hospital by East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, the failure to do so sooner caused her avoidable distress, discomfort and loss of dignity.

PHSO Julie Mellor said: “These cases show the impact that service failure can have on individuals and their loved ones.

“These case studies – which are a snapshot of our work – show the wide range of unresolved complaints we look at, many of which should be resolved by the organisations locally, without people having to refer the complaint to us.

“Good complaint handling has to start from the top, and leaders will recognise the valuable opportunities complaints provide to really improve the service they are delivering.

“Many people complain about public services to enable lessons to be learnt because they don't want the same thing to happen to somebody else.”

The NHS Confederation believes that the PHSO report shows that its members can do more. Dr Johnny Marshall OBE, director of policy, said: “The NHS complaints process must have a simple golden thread, where the patients and their families always receive an apology, an explanation and a clear description of the lessons that have been learned as a result. We also need to apply the same golden thread to staff who have raised concerns and have been let down.  

"Resolving concerns when they are raised must be a priority for all parts of an organisation, from ward to Board. This is central to the NHS’ wider focus on the quality of care and services it provides.

"Our members tell us that we need to move away from seeing responses to complaints as simply an administrative task. Instead we need to consider feedback from those who use NHS services, both good and bad, as an ongoing conversation between patients, those caring for them and leaders across the NHS that results in continuous improvement.”

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