NHS handling of complaints 'unacceptable'

In 2005 the ombudsman called for the establishment of clear national guidelines on complaints
In 2005 the ombudsman called for the establishment of clear national guidelines on complaints

By Phil Scullion

The NHS complaints system requires drastic change if it is to operate effectively, MPs have said.

A report from the Commons' health committee suggests that the health service ombudsman is not currently given enough scope to review complaints.

Committee chair Stephen Dorrell questioned the "legal and operational framework" the ombudsman currently works under, suggesting it needed to be "widened".


He said: "The ombudsman's current terms of reference prevent her from launching a formal investigation unless she is satisfied in advance that there will be a 'worthwhile outcome'. We have concluded that this requirement represents a significant obstacle to the successful operation of the complaints system.

"Patients should be able to seek an independent review of the findings of internal reviews by care providers; the terms of reference under which the ombudsman works prevent her from properly fulfilling this role. This needs to be changed."

A report by the ombudsman in 2005 called for the establishment of clear national guidelines on dealing with complaints.

However the health committee said the organisation of the complaints procedure is inadequate and accused the NHS of being too defensive and failing to adopt a more open culture.

Mr Dorrell continued: "We believe the most fundamental change which is required is a change of culture within the service."

The Department of Health is currently dealing with the aftermath of the independent NHS Future Forum, and has promised to "safeguard" the future of the NHS with a focus on patients.

A spokesman said: "Patients will have a stronger voice and the NHS will be more accountable for the quality of care it provides for patients.

"Local HealthWatch will champion the views and experiences of patients, helping to drive improvements in the quality of health and social care services."
 

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