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Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 23:34 GMT 00:34 UK


Health service fails to satisfy

Patients were most concerned about their stays on hospital wards

Most patients dislike mixed wards, the health service is failing poorer patients, few people see their dentist as regularly as they should and three-quarters of those who complain about these shortcomings get no response, according to a survey.

The findings come in the National Consumer Council's annual concerns survey.

The NCC, a pressure group for UK consumers, asked members of the public for their opinion on a range of health service issues: from how they enjoyed their time in hospital, to how often they visited a dentist.

The findings raise concerns for health ministers, with mixed wards proving the biggest bugbear for most.

Extra embarrassment

Women are more sensitive than men about sharing a ward with members of the opposite sex, but the majority of those questioned agreed that day areas are the only place where mixed-sex accommodation is acceptable in a hospital.

[ image: Fewer people are seeing a dentist partly because it is difficult to find one on the NHS]
Fewer people are seeing a dentist partly because it is difficult to find one on the NHS
Ruth Evans, who is director of the council, said: "Most people don't want members of the opposite sex in the area around their bed or sharing their toilet facilities.

"Going into hospital is stressful enough without having to worry about the embarrassment such encounters could cause.

"The bottom line is that patients privacy and dignity must be respected - as the Patient's Charter promises."

Complaints ignored

However, if patients complain, the chances are their complaint will be ignored, according to the report.

More than three-quarters of those who complained about their GP and almost two-thirds of those who complained about hospital services said they received no response.

Ms Evans commented: "These are startling statistics. Urgent action is needed to address this apparent lack of responsiveness."

The NHS has a well-defined complaints structure, but the NCC survey indicates that many patients do not know how to use the system.

Only 19% knew that they should lodge a complaint about their doctor at their GP's surgery in the first instance.

Patients were better informed about hospitals - 26% knew that complaints about a hospital should be made to the hospital management.

The survey also found that fewer peole were visiting a dentist as frequently as they should be.

The NCC said the drop had occurred because patients experienced difficulty finding dentists who would take on NHS work.

Lack of dentists

One-third of those who had tried to find an NHS dentist in the past year said they had problems in doing so.

Ms Evans added: "People in the lower socio-economic groups are least likely to visit the dentist, suggesting cost is a major deterrent."

It is also possible that the health service as a whole is failing the poorest people in society, the council contends.

[ image: Poverty is a serious cause of illness yet poor people are using the NHS less frequently]
Poverty is a serious cause of illness yet poor people are using the NHS less frequently
People in the lower socio-economic groups are at greatest risk of falling ill, yet the survey found that fewer of these people were visiting their GP, dentist, optician or hospital.

The NCC questioned if the NHS was adequately providing for those who needed care the most.

However, it concluded that most people supported the NHS, especially in the year the service's 50th anniversary.

Patients value service

Ms Evans said: "We have now had a national health service for 50 years, and the message is that consumers value it enormously."

But she added: "The challenge for the government is to deal with some of the problems our survey throws up."

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