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Watchdog claims patients too frightened to complain of poor care

Patients who suffer poor care in hospitals are being failed by a “toxic cocktail” within the health service, according to the NHS Ombudsman.

Dame Julie Mellor told The Daily Telegraph that patients were often too frightened to complain in case they received even worse treatment, while those who did met “a culture of defensiveness” from staff.

Dame Julie is calling for changes so that more concerns are acted on promptly, and action is taken before care is jeopardised, the newspaper said.

These would include access to a free patients’ advice service 24 hours a day, and for each patient to be given the name of a senior person - usually the ward sister - as the first contact for concerns.

These have been submitted to an independent review of hospital complaints by Ann Clwyd, a Labour MP who protested about the care her late husband received while he was in hospital last year. The report is due next month, the newspaper said.

Dame Julie said that research carried out by the Ombudsman had found that the NHS culture meant too often that those who suffered harm were denied a simple apology.

She said: “What we found was that there is a toxic cocktail - patients felt reluctant to complain, because they can fear it will affect the care they get - and that if they do, they are met with a culture of defensiveness, where they don’t get the explanations they need, and the opportunity is lost to learn really powerful insights, which could improve the NHS.”

Research has found that more than half of those who consider complaining about the NHS do not do so, with many put off because they expect the process to be bureaucratic, while others believe it will make no difference, the newspaper said.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Sadly I think this can be true in a minority of circumstances. I have seen Nurses be spiteful to patients who have complained, and in fact I experienced it myself as a patient.

    I do however always encourage patients to complain if they have not been happy with their treatment because ultimately someone has to investigate and answer that complaint.

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  • Charlotte Peters Rock

    Ralph Winstanley suffered care so rotten hat it deliberately killed him, when official documents clearly show that he had not been dying. The covering up which took place in Doncaster, and then regionally, and then nationally was immense.

    And it was all achieved on our public money. It really is time to bring those who pervert our National Health Service to justice, especially those at the top end of the NHS and Police, including those who work in our overseeing agencies.

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  • Sadly, what Dame Julie Mellor says is correct. I have met several several patients who said that they did not complain in case they got worse treatment in future.
    However, the changes that Dame Julie is calling for will not work.
    We have to look at the root cause. The NHS is not a Learning Organization. Courageous staff who raise genuine concern about under-staffing and unsafe care are regularly hounded out of their jobs. Those who abuse and neglect their patients are rewarded by NHS managers who are more interested in hitting their target.
    So called unions are more than happy to collude in all this.
    Visit www.patientsfirst.co.uk to find out just how bad the situation is and how it can be put right.
    Kathleen White (Edinburgh)

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  • Charlotte Peters Rock | 13-Aug-2013 2:39 pm

    Stop blaming the NHS because of a family feud over inheritance.

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  • I'm going to tread very carefully with this comment.
    As a nurse I work as hard as possible to ensure all patients get the care they need and more often than not expect. But over the years I've subjectively observed that the patients who do not complain are the ones you need to ask after most.
    I love it when a patient has a voice. Some of them are getting better, job well done.
    It's the quiet people that need to be asked gently about their care.

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  • Years ago I was a nurse and I reported a colleague for awful care that was being given to several patients. my career crashed in to the ground because of it. I was telling the story to a current nurse who said based upon her experiences over the last few years nothing had changed. So if nurses are too scared to report bad care how can one expect a patient to?

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