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.