Trusts should allow frontline nursing staff to respond directly to complaints about care, according to the founder of an unofficial website that publishes patients’ views and experiences of NHS services.
Patients prefer honest explanations from staff on the wards to carefully-worded PR statements, said ex-GP Paul Hodgkin, who set up the Patient Opinion website in 2006.
His comments follow an analysis of five years’ worth of complaints received from patients and carers and published by the website, which features anonymous comments about named NHS organisations.
While many – nearly 80% of contributors to Patient Opinion – made positive comments about NHS care, the study focused on a sample of the 530 worst complaints in an effort to identify the top concerns.
A rude or negative attitude from NHS staff, including nurses, was the most common problem – 33% of complaints raised were on this issue. Additionally 30% said they experienced insufficient “care and compassion”, while 22% commented on a disappointing lack of responsiveness from staff.
The findings follow last week’s damning report by the health service ombudsman into the care of older patients (news, page 7, 22 February).
Dr Hodgkin said the analysis highlighted the difference something as simple as the attitude of nursing staff made to experiences of care.
“From the study, we can see nurses are absolutely crucial in how people perceive care. When things are good, nurses are often praised but when things are bad nurses often pick up the tab for that too,” he said.
He said trusts had to get better at responding to complaints and dealing with them in a “more human” way, including ensuring feedback – positive and negative – was passed on to nursing managers and staff, and involving nurses in responding directly to patients’ concerns.
“Our experience is that when it gets back to frontline staff they like it,” he told Nursing Times.
“Obviously it’s great to hear the thank-yous but when there is a complaint, they’ll often know why. They can say ‘we had two nurses off sick that day, we’re sorry’ and that’s the kind of honest response patients’ like.”