Thursday, November 03, 2005


A third of all complaints made by patients against the National Health Service are having to be sent back because hospitals are failing to deal with them properly. Figures released today by the Healthcare Commission reveal that the number of people demanding an independent review of their NHS complaint has more than doubled in a year, after inadequate action by health trusts. The commission, which handles complaints that local trusts fail to resolve, said that it had received more than 8,000 requests in the year to August from people who wanting their matter to be reviewed independently. This compared with 3,700 requests in 2003-04, when the health service was responsible for dealing with the second stage of the complaints process itself.

The commission is now urging the NHS to improve its dealings with dissatisfied patients by resolving more cases at a local level. It also said that trusts needed to provide vital information to the commission more promptly. Fewer than 10 per cent were found to provide annual complaints reports to the commission, as they are required to do by statute. The Healthcare Commission is currently sending one in three cases back to the NHS because it has not dealt with the issue well enough. This figure increased from 27 per cent of complaints at the end of May to 32 per cent by the end of September.

NHS trusts have to file annual reports on complaints to their strategic health authority and the commission, showing how they are resolving them. But the commission said that it had received reports from only 46 out of 597 trusts in England for the financial year 2004-05. It also said that some trusts had failed to send complaints information, slowing down the review process. Current figures show that the commission is investigating 4,500 complaints with about 1,600 of these with them for more than six months. In 25 per cent of the cases that have been waiting six months, it is still waiting for more information from NHS providers.

Marcia Fry, head of operational development at the Healthcare Commission, said that the procedural failures were unacceptable. “The number of NHS complaints referred for independent review has gone up dramatically,” she said. “We have been working as hard as we can to get as many NHS complaints resolved as quickly as possible and those efforts are now bearing fruit. “However, all trusts must also play their part. Patients want complaints resolved quickly and locally, so NHS trusts need to be good at this. “It is worrying that so many of the NHS complaints that come to us — one in three — are having to go back to the NHS to be put right.”

The majority of complaints (53 per cent) were about acute hospital trusts, including foundation trusts. Complaints about GPs, primary care trusts and dentists, made up a third of complaints and 13 per cent related to mental health trusts. The most common complaints seen by the Healthcare Commission concerned poor communication and information for patients, and safe and effective clinical practice.

The commission is now producing a good-practice guide on complaints management — including what it would expect to see in a complaints file. It is also working with trusts that have the highest numbers of unresolved complaints, offering training and advice. The commission also said that it had to improve its processes because some people were waiting too long to have their complaint dealt with



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL hospitals and health insurance schemes should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the very poor and minimal regulation. Both Australia and Sweden have large private sector health systems with government reimbursement for privately-provided services so can a purely private system with some level of government reimbursement or insurance for the poor be so hard to do?

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