NHS complaints procedure branded "appalling"

Posted by Patricia Wakeford on


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Recently we have been faced with the outcome of the report on NHS complaints procedure published by the Parliamentary and the Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) Julie Mellor. It was quite worrying to hear that 40% of investigations to deaths and avoidable harm due to failings in the NHS care were found to be "inadequate" and "appalling".

Source: Westlaw-NHS probes into patient complaints appalling: Report

Julie Mellor indicates that the quality of NHS probes is of "significant variation". There are cases where the investigations were not initiated by hospitals when they should have been, and cases conducted without finding any sort of explanation as to why the failings took place.

The report found that 28 of the 150 cases should have been investigated by the NHS as a Serious Untoward Incident (SUI), which is triggered to allow doctors to learn from past mistakes.
But in the vast majority of these cases (71%) the hospital failed to carry out an SUI.

PHSO expressed that hospitals should take more care while reviewing and initiating complaints so as they should improve on quality of such complaints. Mellor called NHS to tackle those problems.

Julie Mellor says: "When the NHS makes a mistake their duty is to investigate - these investigations shouldn't be about attributing blame but should find out what happened and why in order to prevent the same mistakes from happening again. Our evidence too often shows this is not the case."

Amongst the cases investigated inadequately there was a case of one-day-old baby, who suffered permanent brain damage after two doctors and a nurse made serious mistakes during blood transfusions.

The Department of Health in respond to the report replied that a barrister specialising in clinical negligence has been appointed to create an independent report into creating an open and honest reporting culture within the NHS.

The NHS is a great institution. However, this is one area where there can be improvements. We regularly hear about how much money is spent by the NHS defending clinical negligence cases. If complaints were adequately investigated this might lead to some cases never reaching a solicitor's door step. Alternatively, a well drafted and considered response to a compliant might enable an earlier and more cost efficient resolution to many claims.

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About the Author

Photograph of Patricia Wakeford

Patricia is a Senior Associate, in our Clinical Negligence team, and is also a qualified midwife with many years of experience working in the NHS.

Patricia Wakeford
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023 8085 7310

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