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Complaints over poor communication in the NHS on the up

There has been a “significant” rise in the number of complaints in which NHS staff has failed to provide an “adequate” remedy or “proper” apology, the health service ombudsman has revealed.

The report Listening and learning found there have been 50% more complaints about the NHS not acknowledging mistakes in care and 42% more complaints about “inadequate” remedies being offered, including “inadequate” apologies.

In one case seen by the Ombudsman, a bereaved daughter was told: “Death is rarely an ideal situation for anyone' and that 'Truth be told your mother probably said her goodbyes long before the final moments”.
The ombudsman - an independent service for anyone who is unhappy with NHS services - is calling on the NHS to improve the way it deals with complaints on the ground.
“All too often the people who come to us for help are unhappy because of the careless communication, insincere apologies and unclear explanations they've received from the NHS,” said ombudsman Julie Mellor.

“A poor response to a complaint can add to the problems of someone who is unwell, struggling to take care of others or grieving. The NHS needs to get better at listening to patients and their families and responding to their concerns.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the increase in complaints may reflect “a growing willingness” to complain on the part of patients and relatives - something he claimed should be “welcomed” by NHS staff.

"This report shows that too often mistakes are compounded by the poor handling of complaints,” he said.

“Sometimes they're simply ignored or dismissed, and other times the lessons are just not learned. It may be that the increase in number reflects a growing willingness to complain on the part of patients and relatives, and this should be welcomed.”

“The RCN believes that good communication is at the heart of good nursing. The NHS as a whole needs to make a concerted effort not just to improve communication in general, but to systematically make improvements when things go wrong.”