18 Jun 2007 02:52 PM
Government launches consultation on new streamlined health and social care complaints system

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH News Release (2007/0169) issued by The Government News Network on 18 June 2007

The Department of Health is today launching a consultation paper on a new approach to dealing with complaints in health and social care which will make it easier for people to complain when things go wrong.

It will make the whole experience of making a complaint easier, more user-friendly, cooperative and much more responsive to people's needs, involving an independent element where required. And it emphasises that health and social care services should routinely learn from complaints, feeding into service improvement.

Currently there are separate complaints procedures for health and adult social care which make it particularly difficult for people who use a combination of services to make a complaint or for those services to respond. There are also different arrangements for children's complaints.

The different systems are not easy for people to understand and are seen as lengthy and bureaucratic. Some people feel too intimidated, or worried about the potential impact a complaint may have on their relationship with their social worker or GP. As a result people may choose not to complain, problems are not dealt with and an opportunity for learning is lost.

Today's consultation document sets out a new more locally focussed system, one where it is in the interests of health and social care organisations to listen to people's experiences, be more openly responsive and improve services accordingly.

The new unified health and social care arrangements aim to:
resolve complaints locally - there will be a more personal and flexible approach to handling complaints;
ensure early and effective resolution, and robust handling of all cases not just those which are more complex;
make sure people with complaints have access to effective support - this is particularly important for people who find it difficult to make their views heard,
give people the option of going direct to their primary care trust with a complaint about their GP, instead of complaining directly to the GP;
give people the option of going direct to their local authority with a complaint where the care has been arranged by the local authority;
ensure organisations improve the services they provide by routinely learning from people's experiences.

With the emphasis on effective and robust resolution and with independence available through the Ombudsmen, the additional independent review of complaints handling, currently carried out by the Healthcare Commission will no longer be necessary.

The Health Service Ombudsman considers complaints about poor treatment or services provided through the NHS in England. She is independent and impartial and her services are free.

Ann Abraham, Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman, and Tony Redmond, Local Government Ombudsman said:

"The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsmen together welcome this commitment to develop an integrated health and social care complaints approach. It marks a significant step towards the delivery of a modern, responsive, complaints system, aimed at improving services for all patients and service users."

Health Minister, Lord Hunt said;

"The vast majority of people who use health and social care services are happy with the care and treatment that they receive. Where people do have a complaint we must make sure its as straightforward as possible

"However, we know from recent research that people find the current complaints procedures hard to understand which is why we are consulting on a radical new unified approach across health and social care. This streamlined approach will remove the need to follow a rigid set of procedures in every case to enable more open, flexible and responsive complaints handling.

"It makes sense for everyone to now use a more locally based system for complaints, one that the public feel they can trust because it is in health and social care providers' interests to be more accountable to their local communities. At the same time health and social care providers will be monitored to check they are dealing with complaints satisfactorily.

"We have committed to implementing a single, comprehensive complaints process across health and social care which better reflects the way in which services are provided and people use them. We recognise the problems with the current arrangements and are determined to make sure that the new arrangements are simple, effective and flexible to meet the needs of people using them. We recognise that the people who rely most on services are often the people least able to voice their concerns and are committed to ensuring that in future their voice will be supported through a right to advocacy. We want to ensure organisations takecomplaints seriously and that the Boards within those organisations understand both the benefit of dealing with complaints effectively and the consequences if they don't. "

Paul Snell, Chief Inspector of CSCI said

"CSCI welcomes debate on a more coherent and better integrated system of handling complaints across health and social care. People who use services deserve a system that is easier to use and more responsive to their needs and we look forward to contributing to the consultation to achieve this."

Anna Walker, Chief Executive of the Healthcare Commission, said:

"We welcome and fully support any initiative that ensures that patients and the public get quicker and local resolution to their complaints - that iswhat they tell us they want. The Commission has been highlighting this feedback for some time.

"It is therefore right to consider a system that requires healthcare and social care organisations to handle complaints better and with one, not two, independent appeals processes."

Primary care trusts and local authority social services, which make arrangements locally for services to be provided, (service commissioners), will have a major role to ensure that services they commission have effective complaints processes in place and are delivered to a high standard. Commissioners will also want to see that the lessons learnt from complaints feed into continuous improvement of the quality of services. This will include: putting people at the centre of planning and designing the services they commission; understanding the needs of populations and individuals; and sharing and using information - such as from complaints - more effectively.

The initial consultation will run for 4 months and close on 17th October 2007. Following that, the Department of Health will present a framework outlining the next steps. For further information see: http://www.dh.gov.uk

Notes to editors
This consultation endorses the commitments in 'Safeguarding Patients' the Government's response to the Shipman Inquiry fifth report and the reports of Ayling, Neale and Kerr/ Haslam.

It fulfils the commitment in "Our health our care our say" to develop a single complaints system across health and social care focussed on resolving complaints locally with a more personal and comprehensive approach.

'Making things better?' a report on reform of the NHS complaints procedure in England, by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman describes some the problems caused by fragmentation of complaints systems.

The Healthcare Commission's report 'Spotlight on Complaints'identified a number of national and regional trends regarding the local delivery and handling on complaints in health.