Healthwatch England has criticised how lengthy and complicated the process can be, particularly as so many organisations could be involved after a complaint has been made. Not only does this increase the risk of potential barriers, it also slows the process down, which is discouraging for patients.
Currently, if a patient suspects that medical negligence has occurred the complaints process could start with the GP or hospital in question, before the issue is taken up with various regulators and committees such as the health service ombudsman, General Medical Council or General Nursing Council. And this is even before it may reach the courts.
For patients with a reason to complain, this process can seem daunting and very confusing, leaving them unsure where or how to even begin. The recent findings reveal that patients are likely to drop a complaint or not even pursue one in the first place because they feel the whole system is too complicated.
We recently conducted our own research at Fletchers which also revealed that patients were put off by the present complaints system. We found that 57% of patients surveyed had, or knew a family member who had, a reason to complain about their treatment, however less than a third (18%) chose to do so. Common reasons for not registering a complaint ranged from believing that they wouldn’t be listened to, to thinking standards in their treatment would diminish further if they complained.
The whole point of having a complaints system is for the NHS to realise their mistakes and learn from them to drive real long-lasting improvements for people using its services. In order for the system to be effective, we need the NHS to listen to patients concerns, investigate complaints thoroughly and in a timely fashion, as well as be open and honest when failings occur.
Following these findings, NHS England has said it is committed to improving how complaints are handled and is piloting a new approach. This is certainly a step in the right direction and hopefully will encourage more patients to feel confident about airing their concerns if they have suffered from poor care.
At Fletchers, we guide and support our clients through the complaints process to ensure it is hassle-free, and that they get the answers and compensation they deserve.