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Two in every 10 complaints about NHS involve nursing care


The NHS receives significantly more complaints about medical staff than it does about nurses, despite the larger size of the nursing workforce, latest figures reveal.

The NHS in England receives 480 written complaints a day, with hospital doctors and surgeons among those bearing the brunt of patients’ frustrations, new figures show.

There were almost 175,000 written complaints about the health service in 2013-14, the equivalent of 3,300 a week, according to a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Almost half of complaints about hospitals and community health services were against medical professionals, including doctors and surgeons, followed by around 20% against nurses, midwives and health visitors.

“The report out today really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to complaints about health”

Anna Bradley

Complaints were made over a wide range of issues, from the cancellation of appointments and the attitude of staff to transport, privacy and dignity and consenting for treatment, across areas such as ambulance services, community hospitals, NHS Direct and mental health services.

But the number of annual complaints could be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people having a poor experience through the NHS, a health watchdog said.

Healthwatch England claimed there could be around 500,000 incidents of poor care or patient dissatisfaction that have gone unreported over the last two years.

It suggested that more than 60% of patients who received poor care or witnessed a friend or relative being looked after badly did not complain about it.

HSCIC figures revealed 174,872 written complaints against the NHS in England in 2013-14 and 162,019 the previous year, though the centre said the numbers were not directly comparable because of differing numbers of GP surgeries giving data on complaints this year.

There were 114,300 written complaints against NHS hospitals and community health services over the last year, a 4.6% rise from the 109,300 in 2012-13 – the equivalent of an extra 96 complaints a week.

The biggest increase in complaints across professions was against paramedics and ambulance crews – 5,700 in 2013-14 against 4,440 the previous year, a rise of 28.5%.

But medical professionals, including hospital doctors and surgeons, received the highest number of complaints, with 52,100, or 45.6%.

This was followed by nurses, midwives and health visitors, who had 24,800 complaints, or 21.7%.

There were 52,300 complaints relating to “all aspects of clinical care”, with 13,300 about the attitude of staff and 11,500 over communication and information provided to patients.

There were also 3,940 complaints about transport, including ambulances, an increase of 43.4% on 2012-13.

Over the last year, there were also 60,600 written complaints about family health services, which include GPs and dentists.

Some 24,400 complaints were made about medical services, followed by 22,600 about general practice administration and 6,970 about dental services.

Around 22,200 complaints were of a clinical nature, and 13,300 related to communication with patients or general staff attitude.

Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch England, suggested the reported number of written complaints did not fully reflect the levels of poor care patients were receiving.

The organisation said a YouGov survey of 1,676 adults in England showed that over the last two years around 30% of people had received poor care themselves or seen a relative or friend receive poor care from a health or social care service.

Healthwatch England

Anna Bradley

But of these, 61% did not complain about it, and the health watchdog suggested potentially 250,000 people a year were failing to get the treatment and care they expected and felt they could not make their voices heard.

Ms Bradley said: “The report out today really is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to complaints about health and social care services in this country, with the reported figures significantly under-representing the true number of incidents of poor care.

“The need to improve the way the complaints system operates is well documented and we have been working with government to simplify the often baffling process for patients and their families,” she said.

“But for things to work properly, health professionals clearly need to do more to make people feel less intimidated about making their voices heard,” she added.



Readers' comments (11)

  • 8 don't.

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  • Ellen Watters

    It would be good also (and a nice moral boost) if all positive feedback was collated and published.

    We do need to know about complaints for sure and I know that there are many who do not complain when they absolutely should..I always suggest that, if there is good cause, that patients do complain. Otherwise there will be a false sense of everything being okay. They don't want to rock the boat, they are under the illusion that it will result in them receiving poorer care etc.. But that said, wouldn't it be nice to see all the positive feedback for a change..

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  • Compensation culture effect. I would suggest a strong(expensive) legal retaliation if charges were proven to be a complete nonsense.

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  • michael stone

    This confuses me - I glanced at a report in The Times about this, and I thought I'd read that the Healthwatch woman said patients were more likely to complain about nurses, than to complain about doctors.

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  • On reading this you would think that nursing staff must be among the rudest and most uncaring people in the country, but of course they are not. In fact the majority are the kindest and most caring people you could imagine. They are also one of the most highly skilled and a knowledgeable group of people you will meet. I use the word 'people' a lot you will notice, because that is what they are, like their patients. What makes them different is the amount of responsibility they have to bear, and the very difficult job they do. However they are judged on every aspect of their work, perhaps rightly so, but who else is? Think about all the people you meet every day, in your work, when you shop, when you are at leisure, and try to rate them to the same high standard. Only then will you truly understand what it means to be a nurse - and how poorly paid they are for it!!!

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  • Well done you Nurses. The largest sector of the workforce and only 20% of the complaints. Considering the poor pay, overwork, beauracratic paperwork, stress etc etc, give yourselves a pat on the back....

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  • not surprising , the daily mail hates us so will make things up

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  • Nurse cleared of misconduct due to "heavy work load, busy... schedule and worked part time"
    Cuts, privatisation and unreasonable pressure on staff by PCT. A scenario we all dread finding ourselves in every day

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  • Nurse cleared of misconduct due to "heavy work load, busy... schedule and worked part time"
    Cuts, privatisation and unreasonable pressure on staff by PCT. A scenario we all dread finding ourselves in every day

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 3-Sep-2014 5:04 am

    You can't be pressured by the PCT any longer (at least, not in England). Or at least, that is my understanding.

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