Patients 'frightened to complain'

Patients are left in fear of complaining about their treatment on the NHS in case it affects their continuing care, charity bosses have claimed.

The current complaints system is too bureaucratic and adds to the pain and grief patients already suffer, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, also said.

She told a Public Administration Committee hearing on NHS complaints and failures that most people have no idea where to go with their concerns.

Only 40% of those who wish to make a complaint do so, said Katherine Rake, chief executive of Healthwatch England

Only 40% of those who wish to make a complaint do so, said Katherine Rake, chief executive of Healthwatch England

Katherine Rake, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said only 40% of those who wish to make a complaint do so while those that do find the process "can be a very long and complicated journey".

She said that as many as 70 organisations are involved in dealing with complaints about the NHS and social care.

"Everybody needs some support because the system currently is so complex - it's impossible to know where to go," she told the committee.

"It can make you very fearful. They don't trust that their ongoing care will be unaffected.

"I'm afraid currently we hear too many cases of people being traumatised by the way their case is being handled, adding layer upon layer - insult to injury as they say, on top of their original experience."

"We certainly hear from patients who contact our national helpline about their fear of complaining in case their ongoing care will be compromised," Ms Murphy added.

She said many often feel "worn down" by the inefficiency of investigations.

"These are very often people who have been bereaved, who have been traumatised, and that whole episode has just compounded the grief for them."

Ms Rake said that fewer than half the people who make a complaint go on to receive an apology.

She also suggested the NHS should be more joined-up in sharing issues that individual trusts have resolved, as if a mistake has been made in one area it is likely it is being made in another.

She is calling for a single ombudsmen for health and social care, but the Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said the "sheer volume" of complaints meant it would be impossible to have one centralised body to investigate everything.

Giving evidence in a second sitting of the committee, he said the best hospitals were the ones that welcomed complaints as it led them to make more improvements.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor told the committee that local investigations needed to be much more effective, with 40% of probes into serious incidents not actually managing to identify what went wrong.

She agreed that reform was needed to ensure patients or their loved ones were able to have more confidence in the way their complaints are dealt with.

"It would be so much better if there was one public ombudsmen service," she added.

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