Healthwatch England highlight patient complaint procedure shortfall
Around 33% of UK hospitals have admitted that they have ignored complaints by visitors about sub-standard treatment of patients entrusted to their care. National Health Service(NHS) watchdogs have had calls from members of the public who tried discussing problems with hospital staff, only to be told it was none of their business. Anybody can make a complaint under NHS regulations currently in force. Consumer group Healthwatch England contacted all of the country’s hospital trusts, and found many irregularities and misunderstanding existed within the system. Some trusts had a policy of only looking into complaints if patients consented while others didn’t investigate ever, or didn’t keep records.
With data showing that one third of hospitals ignore patient complaints, Healthwatch England commented that the NHS was not promoting a structure of maintaining high standards of care for the Vulnerable and there was a “defensive and obstructive culture” for examining complaints by the public. Statistics for the period 2011 to 2014 reveal that the 30 trusts carrying out investigations into public complaints about the ‘standard of care’ recorded 8,448 complaints between them.
According to Anna Bradley, spokesperson for Healthwatch England: “Hospital patients often feel incredibly vulnerable and too scared to complain when they receive poor care.” She added that the widespread cases of rule misapplication prevented citizens venting justified concerns about these shortfalls in health care. The watchdog organisation stated that they had evidence of complaints about thirsty patients not being given water, medical record confidentiality being breached, and patients suffering from dementia being unsuitably clothed.
Healthwatch England’s report ‘Suffer in Silence’ sets out guidelines aimed at re-examining the complaints procedure and making it more focused on being ‘user-friendly.’ Some of the issues raised in the report include the need to make complaining easier, and responses more personalised. There should also be ‘special measures’ for those hospitals that fail in their responsibility to act in an efficient manner to a complaint. This could start with financial penalties, but ultimately hospitals that are consistently underachieving could be shut down.
NHS England Director for Patient Experience Neil Churchill summarised the situation well: “The NHS can learn from all the comments and complaints that people want to offer us. This is why we have across the service radically improved our systems for gathering feedback and acting on it in real time.”
It’s clearly essential for the NHS to create a culture where Patients feel confident to make complaints, all complaints are recorded and the necessary action is taken to rectify the issue and ensure it does not happen again in the future.