NHS listening skills

Despite the lessons that can be learnt from NHS patient complaints at local level, the organisation is still failing to properly address negative patient feedback says the health ombudsman

Heath trusts too often give poor or incomplete explanations to patients who complain about their care according to a new report from the health ombudsman Ann Abraham today.

According to the report which examined 15,579 complaints made about the NHS in England in 2009/10 most complaints, 44%, were received about hospital, specialist and teaching trusts than any other group, followed by 2,419 complaints made against GPs.

The report said nearly two thirds of complaints against the former group which were then investigated and reported on by the ombudsman were upheld or partly upheld. For complaints against GPs over half were upheld or partly upheld while 80% of the 659 complaints against dentists were upheld or partly upheld.

The report concluded that the NHS needed to "listen harder" to patient complaints.

"Many of the lessons that can be learnt from complaints are straightforward and cost little or nothing to implement at local level: a commitment to apologising when things go wrong; clear and prompt explanations of what has happened; improved record keeping and better information for patients about how to complain," said Abraham.

She added that poor quality or inconsistent information about complaints "diminishes learning within the NHS and impedes access to choice for patients."

Health minister Simon Burns said: "I welcome this report which highlights that the NHS needs to take patient complaints more seriously and manage them more efficiently locally, rather than simply relying on the health service ombudsman.

Patient feedback and complaints are an important source of information – and the experience of other sectors clearly shows that strong user feedback can have a positive impact on services."

Because of changes in the way complaints were assessed the ombudsman said figures published in the report were not comparable to previous years.

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