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The NHS Complaints Procedure and Transparency

Arti Shah
The BBC this week reported that the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman had carried out an investigation of how complaints of avoidable harm had been handled. It looked at 150 cases and identified failings in the handling of nearly half of them, as well as stating that 28 of them should have been classified as a 'serious incident' which warranted further investigation by the hospitals concerned.

The examples of the failings highlighted by the BBC are shocking to read:

  • The parents of a baby girl who had to pay for an independent clinical review and present their findings to the hospital before they would admit that errors had occurred during her delivery

  • The family of a 36-year-old man who died who were told that they would have to take legal action to get answers after doctors failed to diagnose a life threatening condition

  • The failure of a Trust to recognise the seriousness of sepsis resulting in death 2 days after admission to hospital despite an investigation being done
Under the current scheme, if a patient is unhappy with the treatment they have received, they are advised to make a formal complaint to the hospital concerned. You have up to a year after an incident to log a complaint for investigation. Hospitals will usually acknowledge a complaint and provide a time frame within which they will conduct a review and provide a response. If, following the investigation you are unhappy with the outcome, you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to investigate further.

Arti Shah, solicitor at Fieldfisher said: "I have a number of cases where clients have legitimately complained about their treatment in hospital. They are often not updated as to the progress of the investigation or the contents of the investigations are not transparent and do not make clear the failings that have occurred. This is not only frustrating for clients but it means they cannot move on, particularly in cases where serious harm or death has resulted. It should be remembered that the purpose of an investigation is not to apportion blame but to prevent the same mistakes happening again."

She added: "The examples of failings listed above are shocking to read – a patient or their family should never have to conduct their own investigations to get answers."

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