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Darzi calls for better 'customer care'

The NHS must provide better ‘customer care’ to its patients in future, the government has warned.

Speaking a conference of NHS managers last week, health minister Lord Darzi said: ‘Both NHS and social care services need to understand that effective complaints handling and good customer care are both key to improving the satisfaction of the people we care for.

‘Today I have spoken to NHS and social care leaders to remind them of their responsibility in implementing effective complaints systems, learning from patient feedback and demonstrating how they can use this learning to improve services,’ he said at the ‘Achieving Quality Through Better Customer Care’ conference at Lords Cricket Ground.

A report by the National Audit Office, published last October, was highly critical of the current system of complaints. It said it was too complicated, lengthy and difficult to navigate for health service users. The NHS received 133,600 complaints and social care received 17,100 care complaints in 2006-2007.

However, from April the Department of Health is introducing a single, simplified complaints system across both health and adult social care services in England. It has already been trialled in 94 organisations over the past year.

The new system will focus on local resolution, followed by an investigation by the health or local government ombudsman.

In the NHS it removes the second stage of the complaints process – currently handled by the Healthcare Commission – before referral to the Health Ombudsman. In social care, there is currently a four-stage process.

The NHS next stage review identified patient experience as being ‘key’ to the work of the NHS to improve quality. As Nursing Times reported last week, the government wants all trusts to introduce hand-held devices that allow patients to give immediate feedback on their care.


Readers' comments (4)

  • 'Customer Care', 'instant feedback hand held devices', my blood is starting to boil and I'm trying to leave out words I couldn't possibly put in! The day we started referring to patients as 'customers' was the day that things in this wondrous NHS of ours started going belly up! And further than this unto I shall not go!!!

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  • I disagree that the NHS is having problems because patients have been elevated to the status of 'customer'. Anyone unwilling to receive feedback about their standard of care is probably unwilling to change their practice in the light of criticism. While I am not advocating complaints for complaints sake, patients or 'customers' are totally within their rights to let us know what we are doing right and if we are not getting it right. In line with Essence of Care the patient should be at the centre of the process. Part of this means that they can and will be able to identify problems. If we do not act upon that feedback then we are failing them and the NHS really WILL be in trouble.
    However, managers must ensure that complaints are effectively followed up, and that nurses are not scapegoated - as often happens.

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  • The words 'customer care' suggest health care is a commerical enterprise and this gets on nurses' nerves. But Lord Darzi is right - we need robust complaints systems and we owe it to patients to act on them.

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  • Whether the NHS is a commercial enterprise or not is irrelevant to Customer Care; this is essential to our future success - if you prefer the word 'Patient' to 'Customer' that's fine by me - everyone is a patient, it's just that some of our patients happen to be the visiting relatives today, and patients at some point in the future perhaps...?

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