Health Service Ombudsman
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The power of complaints

The power of complaints

PARLIAMENTARY AND HEALTH SERVICE (OMBUDSMAN) News Release issued by The Government News Network on 13 June 2008

Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) today urges the NHS to improve the way it handles complaints.

In a new report - Remedy in the NHS - Ms Abraham summarises 12 NHS cases previously investigated by her Office, highlighting examples of both good and bad practice in dealing with complaints. She concludes that "the cases speak powerfully for themselves about the individual and public benefit of effectively resolved complaints."

The cases, set out in the first of a series of reports aimed at giving complainants and the NHS a clear understanding of how the PHSO approaches complaints, touch on a wide range of issues. Some of them identify failings in the service provision - from poor record keeping and poor communication with patients, relatives and carers to more serious clinical failings and, in one case, an avoidable death. Others involve failings in complaint handling.

When putting things right NHS organisations should keep in mind the following basic principles:

* If possible, returning the complainant and, where appropriate, others who have suffered similar injustice or hardship to the position they would have been in if the maladministration or poor service had not occurred.

* If that is not possible, compensating the complainant and such others appropriately.

* Considering fully and seriously all forms of remedy (such as an apology, an explanation, remedial action to prevent a recurrence, or financial compensation).

* Providing the appropriate remedy in each case.

Launching the publication, Ann Abraham said:

"Many of the cases in this collection highlight the value of a sincere and timely apology, together with a well reasoned explanation of what went wrong. I'm aware there can be reputational risks for NHS bodies associated with my investigations, but I will not hesitate to draw attention to the bodies involved so that poor service can be identified and lessons learnt.

"Plans for a two stage complaints system for health and social care in 2009 will give the PHSO and the Local Government Ombudsman a sharper focus and greater prominence. I welcome this move towards a system based on local resolution with direct referral to an independent Ombudsman if this should fail. This is why it is important that people know how the PHSO will approach a complaint, the standards that we expect of public bodies in providing their services and the principles they should be following when things do go wrong. These standards are set out in 'Principles for Remedy' and 'Principles of Good Administration' which we published last year. 'Principles of Good Complaint Handling' is now out for consultation".


Information to Editors

The twelve cases involved:

* Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Healthcare Commission

* University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and the Healthcare Commission

* Medway Primary Care Trust and West Kent Primary Care Trust

* Good Hope Hospital NHS Trust (now Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust) and the Healthcare Commission

* South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the Healthcare Commission

* Southend Hospital NHS Trust and the Healthcare Commission

* Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust

* Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust and the Healthcare Commission

* Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust

* Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust and the Healthcare Commission

* Dr Mrozinski, a locum GP in Trafford

* Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Healthcare Commission

Ann Abraham holds the posts of Parliamentary Ombudsman and also Health Service Ombudsman for England. She is appointed by the Crown and is completely independent of the government and the NHS.

Her role is to provide a service to the public by undertaking independent investigations into complaints that government departments, a range of other public bodies in the UK, and the NHS in England, have not acted properly or fairly or have provided a poor service. There are three Local Government Ombudsmen in England and they each deal with complaints from different parts of the country.

There is no charge for using the Ombudsman's services.

You can also read the report on the Ombudsman's website at:

Principles of Good Administration
Principles for Remedy
Principles of Good Complaint Handling