NHS complaints system too bureaucratic for patients, says report

Only a tiny fraction of patients unhappy with the NHS make a formal complaint because of a bureaucratic, confusing system which changes little, according to a new report.

The National Audit Office (NAO) found that while 14 per cent of patients were unhappy with their NHS service, less than one per cent made a formal complaint to their health trust.

There was also little evidence of services improving as a result of complaints made.

It also found that one in five health trusts took too long to respond to patient complaints.

While most met the target of an average of 25 working days to answer complaints, one took 55 days, more than twice as long.

Edward Leigh, Chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said that the reason so few patients make formal complaints is that they have “no confidence anything will be done as a result”.

“Complainants are often confronted with a defensive and unhelpful response when sometimes all that is needed is a simple apology or a promise to improve services.

“There is also little evidence that complaints are leading to better services. This is no way to keep people’s faith and trust in health and social care services.”

The criticism comes after David Cameron, the Conservative leader, attacked Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, for an allegedly cold and bureaucratic response to a complaint over the
death one of his constituents, Elizabeth Woods, after she contracted the superbug MRSA.

There were 133,600 official complaints about the NHS last year.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that ministers agreed that the NHS had to be better at handling complaints and that was why a new, simplified system would be introduced next year.

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