The Health Service Ombudsman has called on health professionals to improve the way they deal with complaints after more dissatisfied people referred their issues to her.
Listening and Learning is a report by the Ombudsman looking at the complaints received during 2011-12 about NHS services. It includes examples of responses people have received after making a complaint, including one grieving woman who was told “Truth be told your mother probably said her goodbyes long before the final moments”.
Ombudsman Julie Mellor said her report highlighted a need for those working for the NHS to make improvements to the way they listen to patients and their loved ones and deal with the issues they raise.
The report revealed issues with GPs removing patients from their practice lists as a result of disagreements. The Ombudsman had already expressed concern about this last year after patients contacted her claiming their doctor had behaved unfairly. But despite her raising the issue in the past, she received 16% more complaints about this during 2011-12.
Other examples cited in the report include a male patient who was called a “baby” when he told his surgeon he was worried about being given general anaesthetic and a man whose GP practice failed to spot he was suffering from skin cancer six times.
Another experience mentioned in the report is that of a couple who had to pay the care home bill themselves for several months while a primary care trust decided whether the husband met the criteria for funding even though another trust had already ruled he was eligible.
NHS Confederation chief executive 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.
“But 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.
“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.
“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.”