Matthew Trinder and Claire Bentley provided an update on the Complaints Procedure: 'What NHS Trusts need to know'
In October 2008 the National Audit Office (”NAO”) published "Feeding back? Learning from complaints in health and social care". This is an independent evaluation of existing performance, capability, capacity, and costs of complaints handling in both health and adult social care. Claire Bentley and Matthew Trinder review the main findings of the report with respect to NHS Trusts, and highlight what NHS Trusts can do to improve complaints handling.
The current system
Currently there are separate complaints procedures for health and adult social care. This has made it complicated for those patients who use both services to make a complaint. At the moment, the procedure for making a complaint about the NHS is a 3 stage process, and is as follows:-
The system as from April 2009
In April 2009 a new, combined and comprehensive complaints system for health and social care will be rolled out nationally. This will be a two stage system and will have an increased focus on local resolution. If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the first stage local resolution the matter can be referred to the Health Ombudsman, who will act as the second stage in the complaints process. The Healthcare Commission will no longer exist and will no longer act as the second stage independent reviewer of complaints. It is hoped that these reforms will:-
There have been a number of changes made to the NHS complaints system. However, this report and other independent evaluations and inquiries indicate that there are still significant issues for the NHS when handling complaints, as follows:-
All NHS Trusts should consider the following points to ensure that they are not likely to be the subject of adverse criticism and publicity as a result of poor performance in complaints handling:-
Driving the improvement of the local resolution of complaints will require focused leaders within each NHS organisation who are determined to use the complaints process to improve services. Effective complaint systems are integral to quality improvement, efficiency, risk management and patient confidence.
The new comprehensive complaints system is an ambitious project and there will be a number of organisational challenges in achieving the efficient running of the new system in April 2009. It remains to be seen how smoothly the new system will operate. Inevitably the new procedure will mean that there will be an increase in the number of complaints that the Ombudsman will receive. However the Health Ombudsman hopes that this will be a short term issue, and that in the longer term they will need to deal with less complaints as a direct result of better complaint resolution locally. This Autumn the Ombudsman will publish "Principles of Good Complaint Handling", the purpose of which is to ensure that NHS bodies and individuals understand how complaints should be handled and how the Ombudsman will consider cases.
Complaints handling can be very sensitive, complex work. Well known firms of Claimant solicitors have been known to use the complaints process as a fishing expedition, hoping that Trusts will make errors or injudicious internal comments when dealing with the complaint, which can then form the basis for a subsequent compensation claim. The Legal Services Commission may require a complaint to be made before committing to fund a claim. Developing a feel for the cases that require more attention or liaison between complaints and legal teams at an early stage comes with experience, and Bevan Brittan can help if you need us. The NHSLA will also assist. We would be pleased to discuss the implications of this report with any Trusts that recognise that they need to take urgent action to address the issues which the report raises.