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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Report damns NHS complaints
operating theatre
Complaints about doctors currently are slow to be resolved
Pressure to reform the ailing NHS complaints system is mounting following the second stinging official report inside a week.

The two-year evaluation commissioned by the Department of Health suggests a national complaints authority which could run independently of the NHS.

This echoes the recommendations made by standards watchdog the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) in last week's report into GP Dr Peter Green, jailed for sexually assualting several of his patients.

CHI had accused the NHS of a "culture of complacency" when it came to monitoring the concerns and complaints of patients.

Rather than looking at regional or national complaints bodies, we should be considering overhauling the whole system

Mike Stone, Patients Association
The government has promised a complete revamp of the complaints system before the end of 2002 at the latest.

It will be the second major reform of the system in six years.

The evaluation team found the majority of patients dissatisfied with the way the present system worked.

Only 20% to 30% of those interviewed said they were satisfied with the length of time it took to deal with the complaints - the majority said they felt the procedure was biased in favour of the medical profession.

The evaluation calls on the government to draw up a "National Service Framework" to set the standards for complaint-handling in the same manner as those already published for heart disease and stroke, and mental health.

'Carefully considering'

Ministers took the opportunity presented by the evaluation report to launch their own consultation into complaints system.

Health minister Hazel Blears said: "The recent report by the Commision for Health Improvement recommends a single national complaints body.

"We will carefully consider all responses we receive as part of our reforms for a faster, fairer, more effective complaints procedure."

Mike Stone, from the Patients Association, said that root-and-branch reform was needed.

"Rather than looking at regional or national complaints bodies, we should be considering overhauling the whole system.

"We need to speed the system up by a huge amount - it seems to take so long.

"After all, the evaluation says that 77% of those who requested an independent review of their case said they felt it took too long to organise."

Edward Hobson, from the Consumer's Association, added: "The report's recommendations are more concerned with the administration and managerial accountability of the complaints process rather than the quality of service for people who want to make a complaint.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Government is missing a key opportunity to create a complaints system which would serve patient interests in the long term."

Straight to the top

The current system first tries to resolve the complaint at a local level between the hospital or practice staff and the complainant.

If they are still not satisfied, they can request the independent review, although this is not always granted by a "convener".

Among the proposals of the evaluation group is that some complaints are "fast-tracked" past the review stage straight to the Health Service Ombudsman, who now plays a greater part in highlighting some of the worst cases.

The government has also released a document about its proposed "patient forums" - which will partly - alongside the new Patient Advocacy Liaison Service - replace the present Community Health Councils.

See also:

12 Jul 01 | Health
Doctor complaints soaring
10 May 01 | Health
Patient watchdog reforms shelved
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