11 April 2008
NHS trusts should be willing to apologise to patients when they make mistakes, the health care watchdog has recommended.
A report from the Healthcare Commission – its second examining the NHS complaints system – urged trusts to learn from patients' complaints and use this knowledge to improve complaints handling.
The main complaint areas identified in the April 7 report included a lack of basic nursing care, poor communication, overly brisk GP consultations and a lack of help for mental health service users.
Each year the NHS provides 380 million treatments and receives about 140,000 complaints. The commission reviews cases where the patient is unhappy with a trust's response, and might refer the complaint back to the trust for further action.
Of the cases reviewed, the number of complaints the commission referred back for action fell from 33% to 26%, suggesting the NHS could be improving its complaints handling.
But commission chief executive Anna Walker said: 'It is clear from the complaints referred on to the commission that trusts have some way to go before they are effectively resolving the complaints they do receive.
'It is often a distressing and frustrating time for patients, who feel they haven't received the care they deserve. It is striking that so many people simply want an apology and steps to be taken to ensure the problem isn't repeated.'
Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said it was encouraging that the number of complaints returned to trusts for action had declined.
Webber added that the confederation was developing a paper on how to put compassion back into care. 'Central to this is reassuring patients that they are being listened to and responding to their views,' she said.