Poor communication, errors in diagnosis and poor treatment tops the list of hospital complaints investigated by the Ombudsman

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A report published today has revealed that the top three reasons for hospital complaints investigated by the Ombudsman Service were poor communication, errors in diagnosis – including delays in diagnosis, misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose – and poor treatment. Other reasons for
complaints in this period were staff attitude, no apology when things go wrong and unnecessary delay in treatment.

ombudsman-logoThe report published by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman outlines how many complaints it has investigated for each of England’s 156 hospital trusts and the decisions we made on these complaints, in 2013-14 and the first half of this financial year.

For the first time ever the Ombudsman Service has published the number of enquiries and complaints it has investigated for each of England’s hospital trusts, alongside the number of written complaints the trust received locally published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. This shows the number of complaints not resolved locally by the trust, which then go onto to be investigated by the Ombudsman Service. The report shows that some trusts are 15 times more likely to have a complaint about them investigated by the Ombudsman Service.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is the final stage in the complaints process after people have complained to the NHS. It received 12,353 enquiries from complainants about hospital trusts over the 18 month period covered in the report.

Over these 18 months we accepted 2,497 complaints about acute trusts for investigation. We upheld 44% of complaints about acute trusts over these 18 months.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: “There are lots of reasons why numbers of complaints vary between hospitals and could be due to the size of the organisation or types of patients it serves, for example. We are publishing this data today because every complaint presents an opportunity to improve services.

‘We know that poor communication, errors with diagnosis and poor care and treatment are the most common reasons why people complain to us about their hospital treatment. Other common reasons for complaints are staff attitude, no apology when things go wrong and unnecessary delay in treatment.

‘We hope NHS leaders use the data in this report to identify themes, and recurring problems in order to understand what they have done well and how they can improve their complaint handling.”

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates complaints that individuals have been treated unfairly or have received a poor service from the NHS in England. We do this fairly and without taking sides. We make final adjudications on complaints and where we uphold complaints we make recommendations for remedy. If we find big or repeated issues, we work with others to develop system wide solutions and share our work with Parliament so they hold the providers of public services to account.

The information contained within this report is not designed to rank trusts on the basis of their complaints information or assess the performance of individual trusts when it comes to handling complaints.

The report reveals a wide variation between trusts, in how they handle complaints, even when you account for their size. There is a big correlation between the level of activity at the trust and the number of complaints the Ombudsman Service investigates about the trust. The report compares the number of complaints the Ombudsman Service investigates to the size of each trust. The size of the trust is determined by the number of ‘clinical incidents’ such as outpatient appointments, elective surgery and emergency admissions the trust has carried out. This shows how likely a trust is to receive a complaint about its service. The analysis in the report reveals that some trusts are 11 times more likely to be investigated by the Ombudsman Service.

Each trust will have its own reasons for its complaint data. So if for example a trust has a high number of complaints and not many get referred to the Ombudsman Service, it could mean that the trust resolves complaints well at a local level. Or for example, it could be because trusts are not signposting patients to the Ombudsman Service when they are not satisfied with the way their complaint has been handled by the NHS. All patients have the right to take their complaint to the Ombudsman Service if they are not satisfied with the way the complaint has been dealt with by the NHS.

The Ombudsman Service received 18,870 enquiries about NHS organisations in 2013-14. Just under half of these – 8,178 – were about acute trusts which manage hospitals in England.

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