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Hike in complaints against nurses is 'serious cause for concern'


The number of complaints made about nurses and midwives has jumped by nearly 60% since last year, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which said it was “cause for serious concern”.

The regulator said it had experienced a “record year on year increase” in the number of complaints it had received from the public, employers, healthcare professionals and the police.

It received 833 new referrals in January and February of this year, compared to 530 for the same period in 2010 – an increase of 57%.

The regulator described the volume of new complaints referred to it from employers and, particularly from members of the public, as “significant” – though it noted that more detailed work was needed to understand the precise reasons for the increase.

NMC chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “The fact that other healthcare regulators have also experienced similar dramatic increases in the volume of their complaints is a serious cause for concern and indicates the need for more detailed research into the underlying reasons for these trends.”

However, he added: “It is encouraging that employers and members of the public are more confident about referring their complaints to us.”

In its statement on the figures, the regulator suggested a “more proactive approach to communication” with employers and patient action groups, including better information about the fitness to practise and complaints processes, “may partly explain the growing willingness” of these groups to complain.

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Readers' comments (18)

  • I wonder how many of these complaints were actually true or upheld though? With the 'growing willingness' of people to complain against us, where is our professional protection?

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  • perhaps there should be a professional insurance to protect nurses against unwarranted complaints.

    all mistakes reported have to be taken seriously but some intelligence on the part of those logging them and dealing with them is also required.

    are more mistakes being made or is it just that more people are complaining.

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  • The public has an increasing expectation of nurses and midwives, and at the same time the resources available to staff are rapidly diminishing. I can appreciate that some complaints come from this higher level of expectation, and the failure of the system to deliver to these standards.

    How honest are management and staff in letting the patient/client know exactly what level of service is likely to be available?

    Undoubtedly, and sadly, there will be occasions when the provided service not only falls short of expectations but fails on appropriate professional standards.

    These occasions aside, there needs to be greater clarity and better management of patients expectations if we are to satisfy the needs of our client group.

    Within public health there are fewer and fewer staff resulting in less time to address topics that, some years ago would have warranted a high level of one to one input.

    Some still look to have this level of provision where there is need, but from a purely practical level it is no loger possible to meet that need. I'm sure that we are not the only service under such pressure, coping with a dearth of resources.

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  • you can hardly tell patients they should expect second class service or that their needs will not be met or only partially met. you cannot explain all the shortfalls to their treatment they should expect. and in any case there are no excuses staffing levels, qualifications of staff and other resources should be designed to meet the healthcare needs and demands of the evolving population whatever it costs. if we have to pay a larger contribution to the service so be it. Britain is not a developing or third world country even though if acts that way. there are financial resources and they should be properly utilised for the purpose they are designated - Britain is one of the 20 richest countries in the world so there is absolutely no excuse - except misuse and wastage and even some misappropriation of funds.

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  • Anonymous | 1-Apr-2011 8:43 am:
    I find your comments very interesting and I think it is a discussion that really needs to be had. Is it appropriate to discuss restrictions and limitations of resources with someone who may be in a very vulnerable state? How to address expectations that may be unrealistic with regard to available resources but not unreasonable for a developed nation?
    Personally I wouldn't have any objection to paying more in NI/tax if I thought it was actually going towards the NHS as a public service rather than a privatised one using public money.

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  • The general public have right to complain if they are concerned about a professional's standard of practice. What needs to be considered is whether the NMC in protecting the public. If it was then it would also be protecting the reputation of the nursing profession by removing those who give nursing a bad name. There have been some news reports on the outcomes of recent fitness to practice cases that give cause for concern.

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  • On the question of complaints, I would like to see more of a breakdown of the numbers. I would like to think that they are dealt with constructively and in a 'no-blame culture' as was drummed into us in training, but I agree that depends largely on who is dealing with them. It is an important factor in providing a service that the service is willing to receive feedback and improve the service from that. I also think that this particular area is fraught with complexities not least the resource issues, but also personal feelings, emotional processes and for us as nurses the driving forces that led us to nursing in the first place. I wonder if we tend to take criticism and feedback as a personal attack on our integrity because we might identify ourselves in being a nurse as who we are not just what we do as a job?

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  • I do not know if this is so in the UK, but public spending on healthcare and other areas of service using public funds should be made totally transparent and available to the public.

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  • This article does not mention the causes for the complaints but there is substantial evidence that at times communication and attitudes of nurses is not up to scratch. (Read the latest Ombudsman's report, a recent audit I have carried out has also exposed behaviour and attitudes that bring shame to my profession!) Improvements in attitude don't cost money, just an awareness that how we professionals treat and support people has a massive impact on their experience!!

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  • I would like to know if the complaints risen are when there is a lack of staff on the wards and care of patients is being compromised. or are nurses super human

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