Ombudsman: older people find it difficult to lodge NHS complaints

18 Aug 17

Elderly people and their relatives are reluctant to complain about the quality of care they receive on the NHS, a survey from the Health Service Ombudsman has suggested.

Findings published yesterday showed 51% of family members felt it was difficult to complain about hospital care or treatment of an older relative.

The ombudsman said there were fewer complaints from older people than would be expected given that older people use NHS services more than other age groups.

The survey, published by the ombudsman and social network Gransnet, asked 600 Gransnet members about their experiences of complaining to the NHS on behalf of an older relative in hospital.

The survey reveals:

  • of those who were concerned about the treatment of their older relative, just 58% complained
  • 67% of those who complained do not believe complaining makes a difference
  • 35% of respondents said there were occasions where they were concerned about the care or treatment of their older relative in hospital
  • 31% felt that the hospital staff did not have an adequate understanding of their older relative’s condition or care needs

Rob Behrens, parliamentary and health service ombudsman, said: “The NHS is a lifeline for many vulnerable older people but when things go wrong, too many are suffering in silence.

“I want people to be confident to complain, know their rights, and speak up when things go wrong so that the NHS can learn from mistakes and improve services for others.

He called on the NHS to do more to make it easier for people to complain, because it was a way to improve the quality of care provided.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are determined to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, but when things go wrong it’s important to listen to patients.

“By learning from mistakes we can improve care. This is why we made complaints handling a crucial element of the inspection regime.

“These findings show more could be done. Organisations should be open about how to complain and clearly communicate the support available to people who need help complaining.”

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