The report, published today (9 November), highlights a significant rise in the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman in which the NHS has failed to provide an adequate remedy or proper apology when things have gone wrong. It raises concerns about communication with people who complain and the quality of complaint handling and calls on the NHS to improve the way it deals with complaints on the ground.
Commenting on the findings, Mike Farrar, said: “This is an important report from the Health Ombudsman and one whose findings all of us in the NHS should carefully consider. Listening to patients and their families is an essential part of providing dignified and compassionate care. It provides invaluable information about what’s working and where organisations need to do better.
"Of the 16,337 complaints the Health Ombudsman received, over two thirds were sent back to local organisations because they had not completed the NHS complaints procedure. This suggests that we are not doing enough to resolve things at an early stage and communicate with people about how they can raise their concerns.
“Of the 4,339 complaints the Ombudsman took forward, it was positive that the vast majority could be resolved before going to full investigation, often because there was no case to answer or an apology or explanation was what the individual needed."
Quick and effective resolution
Mr Farrar cautioned that: "we should not take these figures lightly, and where NHS organisations have a case to answer, it is right that they help resolve the situation as quickly and effectively as possible.
Actively seeking feedback
"The new standards for board members and the proposed changes to the NHS Constitution place a significant emphasis on the importance of organisations being transparent when things go wrong. Leaders should act as good role models and actively seek feedback from people who use their services and encourage frontline staff to do the same.
"Our joint Dignity Commission has emphasised the importance of hospital staff discussing and responding to feedback from patients and their families on the ward every day and hospital boards doing the same at every meeting. Doing this allows us the time to discuss and reflect on the care we provide and how we can improve it."
Open and accountable approach
Mr Farrar added: "It is important to remember that a high number of complaints for an organisation does not necessarily equate to poor care. It may indicate the organisation has an open and accountable approach to handling complaints that actively encourages patients and their families to raise issues when they feel the right care has not been provided.
“We should encourage feedback from patients and families. Only by having a two way dialogue and seeing complaints as positive, can we change patient experience.”
Find out more
Download the report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman website.
Find our more about our joint Commission on improving dignity in care.