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Complaints handling 'revolution' is needed

A “revolution” in handling complaints must happen in the health service, a report has claimed. 

Commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the report demands urgent action over the next year to ensure there is real change. 

Key health organisations, such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Monitor have made concrete commitments to improve complaints culture. 

Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary said: “It is clear that the culture in a hospital or trust has a real impact on the quality of patient care. This report makes it clear that managers have a responsibility to show leadership in creating an environment where complaints are regarded as a valuable tool to address poor practice and make changes. There is also an important role to be played by Directors of Nursing, who can ensure that a 'ward to board' approach is taken, with senior managers leading by example.

“The RCN welcomes the opportunity to help promote a more open, accessible and timely feedback system by pledging to produce guidance for nursing staff to help them deal with complaints sensitively and thoroughly.”

Chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, Jackie Smith said: “We have pledged, as part of our planned revision of the Code, to ensure that complaints handling continues to be an integral part of the practice of nursing and midwifery.

“We have also pledged to improve the experience of patients who become involved in our fitness to practise proceedings. We will do this by providing more information and support throughout the process.

“Finally, we will continue to work more closely with other regulators and healthcare organisations to share data and intelligence, to enable us to better protect the public. We plan to have a new operational protocol and data sharing agreement in place with the Care Quality Commission by December 2013. We will develop similar arrangements with other organisations during 2014 - 2015.” 

Richards will publish his findings on complaints in hospitals in a year's time. 

Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt said: “We saw in Mid Staffs how badly things go wrong when patients and families' complaints aren't taken seriously.  

“I want to see a complete transformation in hospitals' approach to complaints, so that they become valued as vital learning tools.  There can be no place for closing ranks or covering backs when patient safety is at stake.” 

The review, chaired by Rt. Hon Ann Clwyd and Professor Tricia Hart, received 2,500 responses describing poor care, a lack of compassion and dissatisfaction with the way their complaint was handled. 

The review panel also heard from people who had not complained because they felt the process was too confusing or they feared for their future care. 

Ann Clwyd MP said: “When I made public the circumstances of my own husband's death last year, I was shocked by the deluge of correspondence from people whose experience of hospitals was heart-breaking. It made me determined to do my best to get change in the system.

“We have given patients and their families a voice in this report, and their message to the NHS on complaints is clear. The days of delay, deny, and defend must end, and hospitals must become open, learning organisations. Our proposals put patients firmly into the driving seat at every level as never before, and we now expect to see progress within 12 months' time.”

The government will publish a full response to the report later this autumn.