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Regulator calls on NHS workers to join 5,000 plus that have blown whistle


More than 5,500 health and social care staff contacted the Care Quality Commission over a seven-month period this year to whistleblow about poor care concerns, the regulator has revealed as it urged more workers to speak up.

In a report about its initial findings on the state of complaints handling within healthcare organisations, the CQC said that between 1 April and 31 October 2014, 5,638 staff contacted the CQC.

It follows a 10% increase in whistleblowers contacting the CQC in previous years, from 8,643 in 2012-13 to 9,473 in 2013-14.

The regulator said it uses the information provided to inform its regulatory activities and to monitor which organisations may need to improve their procedures to make it easier for staff to raise concerns. It called for more people to come forward.

“CQC wants staff to tell us if they know about poor care”


However, the report – called Complaints Matter – acknowledged that the CQC was not directly responsible for resolving individual cases, which should instead be dealt with by individual provider organisations, such as trusts, or the health service ombudsman.

“[The] CQC wants staff to tell us if they know about poor care,” said the regulator, adding: “We know we need to do more to explain what action we take when people bring us information, and to provide clarity over what we can and cannot do.”

Meanwhile, the total number of written patient complaints received by all NHS hospital and community health services has increased every year since 2011-12, said the report.

Mental health services saw a 17% increase in complaints, from 10,439 in 2011-12 to 12,221 in 2013-14.

Written complaints about acute services also increased – by around 4% – from 72,794 in 2011-12 to 75,424 in 2013-14. Community health services complaints went up by 7% over the same period, from 7,735 to 8,293.

The data in the report shows that in 2013-14 the most common reason for complaint by a long way was a problem with clinical treatment. This was followed by attitude of staff, delay or cancellation of appointments, and communication from the service to the patient.

“It’s time for all of us to make the shift to a listening and learning culture”

Mike Richards

The CQC found a key area of concern across acute, mental health and community services were the length of complaints investigations and people feeling  their concerns were not taken seriously.

However, the regulator pointed to results from the NHS staff survey in 2013, which found around 70% of staff across all three services agreed that their organisation acts on concerns raised by patients.

“There is a discrepancy between the views of staff and the experience of people who have made complaints [which] needs further investigation,” said the CQC.

Sir Mike Richards

Sir Mike Richards

Mike Richards, CQC chief inspector of hospitals, said: “This report provides a snapshot in which some things are already fairly clear. There is wide variation in the way complaints are handled and much more could be done to encourage an open culture where complaints are welcomed and learned from.

“While most providers have complaints processes in place, people’s experiences of the systems are not consistently good,” he said.

He added: “It’s time for all of us – regulators, providers, professionals and commissioners – to make the shift to a listening and learning culture that encourages and embraces complaints and concerns as opportunities to improve the quality of care.”

In October, the CQC introduced mandatory tougher inspection requirements around how well complaints and concerns are handled.

This followed a review by Ann Clwyd MP and Professor Patricia Hart, published last year, which called for a revolution in the way in which the NHS handles complaints.


Readers' comments (15)

  • Counting complaints is nonsense. Counting up the meaningful changes resulting would be useful. My guess is that the ratio of complaints to meaningful changes is about 1000:1.

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  • I agree with Richard Cook. Change is what counts. CQC aren't transparent when it comes to whistleblowing. Media are still exposing poor care where CQC have failed to respond to whistleblowers. CQC say they consulted a "focus group" of whistleblowers. How about straight audit, much more open & accountable and less open to cherry picking/ presentation.
    And why are CQC delaying publication of their submission to Robert Francis' review on whistleblowing? Why not be open now? Other organisations have published. It doesn't give confidence when a major public body behaves in this way. I fear much of this is spin.

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  • And just look at The Guardian's recent item about whistleblowers ( as a reminder of what happens to those who do try to blow the whistle...

    Now, why might anyone choose to keep their mouths shut?

    Can the CQC guarantee any sort of protection from that kind of hounding and victimisation?

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  • I am a nurse. I have approached the CQC about the shocking care my father received in a general hospital (not my own hospital)resulting in his death. 19 months after the event we still have not got a satisfactory response from the Trust.

    I have also informed them of the disgraceful treatment of my sister who has mental health issues and the distress that it has caused within the family as the trust hides behind confidentiality. They bully us and threatens us with legal action if we continue with our claims about poor care.

    I am told by the CQC that it isn't their remit to investigate complaints but they will monitor it on the intelligent monitoring system of the hospital. They advise me to go to the Ombudsman. Only last week the Patient's association admitted the PHSO was not doing its job properly. That leaves nowhere in the system where you can guarantee that complaints will be dealt with fairly.

    Why can't the CQC work with the PHSO? it would be a perfect partner.
    Unbelievable really given the findings of the Francis report.

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  • CQC doesn't help resolve individual cases. CQC does nothing to ensure the safety of whistle blowers who have been victimised after raising concerns. CQC can only suggest that these are the responsibility of the providers. Anyone who has read the tribunal al judgement on Dr Kevin Beatt v Croydon NHS and the way he was bullied and victimised by managers who did not give a fig for patient safety will understand how that this does not work. But CQC understands this perfectly well. A trail of high profile whistle blowers have approached David Prior and David Began. Their response, Sorry there is nothing we can do. And we do not know anyone who can do anything. The whistle blowers CQC wish to encourage raise concerns anonymously. This will do nothing to change the culture of fear in which managers ignore or retaliate against those who advocate for patients.

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  • Jeremy Hunt and Simon Stevens should deal with this problem. They must be aware it is happening.

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  • Beginning November 2013, I have reported unresolved concerns that I have about care given at the home where my mother resides to the CQC and specifically concerns about my mother's care to the nhs lot.
    The nhs have worked hard to vilify and discredit me, using the home owners to do most of their dirty work.
    The CQC have studied proof I supplied, listened, impartially investigated and now the home is under an enforcement order. But it has taken too long.
    3 Care homes in my own locality have had their nursing registration withdrawn.Times are changing but because of the vindictive nhs thickos, I strongly recommend anonymity for staff when reporting concerns to the CQC.
    The Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman service are a twisted waste of taxpayers money.
    Whoever is at the back of all this corruption amongst the nhs supervisory bodies and the PHSO needs to get educated to assimilate that compassionate care is actually more cost effective than practising nazi principles. SOON!

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  • The home I work in should not of passed CQC inspection but the managers know what they are looking for and are good at covering up. I know I should speak out but I need a job, and I know I would not get any backing . So for me I try to do my best for people I care for, even if this means I sort things out when at home or by doing my best to hint, to family-visitors out side professionals issues that need to be addressed yet also needing to stick by the confidentiality laws and hope the managers get there dues.

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  • Anonymous | 8-Dec-2014 6:52 pm

    Simon Stevens should be well aware of the bullying of whistleblowers and other staff who rock the boat, given the trust he worked for as a manager, which has a well-founded, long-standing reputation for such activities...

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  • The Government says Jump and the managers say "how high?" They don't care who they step on to reach their goal (OBE?) or who is hurt in the process be it patients or staff.

    Jeremy Hunt has responsibility for matters discussed on this page.

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