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Patients Association - Complaint handling in NHS Trusts

Two years on from the publication of the first Francis Report, and shortly before the launch of the findings of the inquiry into Stafford Hospital, The Patients Association has launched a damning report into complaints handling in England’s hospitals.

The analysis, in a new report 'Complaint handling in NHS Trusts', reveals huge variations in the way in which hospitals display information about how to make a complaint, shows support to patients is incomplete and unclear, and suggests 35% of staff have insufficient training in complaints handling.

Despite the shocking catalogue of poor care at Stafford Hospital, and numerous reports since, this investigation shows significant pockets of the NHS have not led the kind of changed needed to prevent another scandal occurring.

The Trusts investigated as part of this review were randomly selected, but they have all signed up to The Patients Association’s Care Campaign to improve the standards of care in key areas of concern, such as providing adequate pain relief and communicating with compassion.

As the health and social care system prepares for the inevitable widespread changes emanating from the Francis Inquiry, this report provides a sombre reminder that the lessons of previous reports have still not been learnt.

Key recommendations from the report include:

- Accessible information on how to make a complaint must be available on Trusts’ websites, as well as on leaflets and posters throughout NHS hospital ward

- Complaints must be regarded as a learning opportunity. Rather than a culture of blame, a culture of learning must be fostered throughout NHS Trusts.

- Specific provisions for complaint-related staff training and support are the first step towards a functioning complaints system. Such training and support need to be clearly identified and strictly executed for all relevant staff.

Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of The Patients Association, who is attending the launch of the report, said

“With the Francis Report due to be released shortly, The Patients Association has identified key challenges for the NHS as the ongoing flaws in the current complaints system is revealed. We raise these examples not to criticise without solution but to highlight the very real need for robust measures to ensure that any changes proposed by the Francis Inquiry are implemented in the years to come.

The future quality of the NHS depends on a patient revolution in customer services, as well as care services, which means that complaints must be seen as ‘learning opportunities’.

All Trusts should sign up to a new blueprint for complaints handling, which puts information, transparency and accountability at the very heart of the NHS. The Government, and indeed, Trusts need to work together to share the good practice identified in this report.”

Notes to editor:

- Read the full report 'Complaint handling in NHS Trusts' is available here

- The Patients Association launched the Care Campaign in November 2011, in partnership with the Nursing Standard, which asked Trusts to sign up to do more in areas of poor care identified by patients through the charity’s Helpline. You can find out more about the campaign here.

- In November 2012 The Patients Association published a series of appalling accounts of poor care told personally by patients and relatives themselves. The report is available here

- The Patients Association is a campaigning charity, listening to patients and speaking up for change. It has been working for nearly 50 years to make sure that the patient voice is heard and listened to by policy makers.

- For further information please contact the Patients Association on 02084239111