Pa­tient com­plaints to NHS watch­dog more than dou­ble

Warn­ing that lessons from care fail­ings are ‘not be­ing learned’


COM­PLAINTS about the Scot­tish NHS have more than dou­bled in the past decade, as a lead­ing pa­tients’ cham­pion warned that lessons were not be­ing learned.

The Scot­tish Pub­lic Ser­vices Om­buds­man (SPSO) Jim Martin said the watch­dog was fac­ing a “long-term rise” in health com­plaints that were be­com­ing “an in­creas­ing pro­por­tion of our work­load”.

More than three-quar­ters of griev­ances last year re­lated to faults with clin­i­cal treat­ment or di­ag­no­sis and about 12 per cent re­lated to staff rude­ness, breaches of con­fi­den­tial­ity, and wait­ing time de­lays.

It re­ceived 599 health com­plaints in 2007-08 com­pared to 1,512 in 2015-16.

The SPSO acts as the “last re­sort” for pa­tients or their fam­i­lies who feel they have “suf­fered in­jus­tice or hard­ship as a re­sult of mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion or ser­vice fail­ure”, and who re­main un­happy af­ter a health board’s in­ter­nal com­plaint process has been ex­hausted.

Re­cent se­ri­ous cases in­clude a dis­abled woman who died af­ter de­lays in di­ag­nos­ing a brain tu­mour and a man who was sent home from hospi­tal when doc­tors mis­took his brain haem­or­rhage symp­toms for drunk­en­ness.

The watch­dog also scru­ti­nises or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing coun­cils, pris­ons, hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tions, and uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, but com­plaints about the NHS have risen fastest.

Dr Jean Turner, re­tired GP and a for­mer in­de­pen­dent MSP who headed the Scot­land Pa­tients As­so­ci­a­tion, said the trend was “very dis­ap­point­ing” and pointed to a “re­ally tired work­force”.

She added: “When peo­ple are tired, they can be a bit sharp with peo­ple and they’re also more likely to make mis­takes. Tired labour never pays, so prob­a­bly we should be learn­ing that we need more staff. Pa­tients are not in it to make money from com­plain­ing – they are in it to make things bet­ter for other peo­ple, so I find it sad that health boards have not been able to demon­strate they are get­ting on top of it.

“You’ve got to ad­mit you will end up with a se­ri­ous cri­sis if you don’t deal with these is­sues that pa­tients and their rel­a­tives are ac­tu­ally teach­ing you about when they go to the Om­buds­man. You should learn from your com­plaints so they don’t hap­pen again.”

In ev­i­dence to the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment’s Health Com­mit­tee, Mr Martin said the new NHS com­plaints process due to take ef­fect from April 1 should mark “a sig­nif­i­cant shift of fo­cus to­wards quick, re­spon­sive and non-de­fen­sive com­plaints han­dling”.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said the “over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity” of pa­tients were happy with their care and to­tal com­plaints to the NHS had fallen by four per cent year-onyear in 2015/16. The rate of com­plaints is about five per 10,000 cases.

A spokesman said: “Sat­is­fac­tion in our health ser­vice is in­creas­ing, but we want to con­tinue to im­prove and new pro­ce­dures are be­ing in­tro­duced to en­sure quick and re­spon­sive com­plaints han­dling. Learn­ing from the feed­back from pa­tients and fam­i­lies has been piv­otal in NHS Scot­land’s con­stant drive to im­prove its ser­vices.”

SURGE: Om­buds­man Jim Martin said health com­plaints are ris­ing.

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