How accurate are hospital complaints figures?
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Hospital complaints should act as an accurate statistic into the performance of that hospital and a warning if things are being done incorrectly.
However many hospitals will often refuse to consider a complaint if the patient or relative is considering taking legal action. This means that the figures we are given by the hospitals could be misleading. Additionally, it can be frustrating for the patient or relative to be told that the hospital will not investigate their complaint because they have contacted a solicitor. Some patients see this as an excuse to avoid admitting failings in care.
The charity Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) is currently campaigning for a change in the rules concerning hospital investigation of complaints. The rules in this area were supposed to be changed in 2009 to prevent hospitals using a potential claim as an excuse to investigate failings, however hospitals still seem to be failing to investigate a complaint if a legal claim is being pursued.
A number of cases have come to light where hospital trusts and the NHS Ombudsman have refused to consider a complaint in light of potential legal action being taken. Following the Mid Staffordshire scandal which has recently come to light, it is possible that a new "duty of candour" will be introduced for the NHS. How effective such a duty will be will remain to be seen.
In the meantime, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has advised that a review is being carried out to examine how complaints are currently handled.
Whatever the outcome, ministers and hospitals alike need to regain the trust of the public and patients again.
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