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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
Ombudsman slams waiting list scheme
Operating theatre
The Ombudsman investigated 225 NHS complaints
A NHS scheme to cut hospital waiting lists by treating patients in the private sector has been criticised by a health watchdog.

The Health Service Ombudsman Sir Michael Buckley used his annual report to highlight the case of one patient who had to admit herself into a private hospital for emergency treatment after the NHS said it was unable to provide care.

Sir Michael has asked the Department of Health to ensure trusts make adequate plans for patients in need of urgent follow-up treatment.


I find that complaints about care are often aggravated by failings in the way in which they were managed locally

Sir Michael Buckley
Sir Michael also used his report to call for improvements in the way medical staff talk to each other and better support for junior doctors and mentally ill patients.

The ombudsman received 2,660 complaints last year. However, 67% were premature or not within his jurisdiction.

A total of 225 complaints were investigated and three out of four grievances were upheld.

Criticism

In his report, Sir Michael said he had asked the Department of Health to look into the arrangements for providing emergency care to NHS patients after they had been treated in the private sector.

He cited the case of one patient who underwent an operation for a prolapsed disc. She was referred for treatment by an unnamed NHS trust to a private hospital.

After surgery, the woman experienced severe pain. However, the NHS trust was unable to admit her because of a lack of beds.

The patient admitted herself to the private hospital where she spent five nights before an NHS bed was found.

Sir Michael Buckley
This is Sir Michael's last annual report
The ombudsman criticised the trust involved saying it had failed to address the possibility that some patients might require readmission.

He also said there was inadequate arrangements to provide community-based care for the increased numbers of patients who would be discharged as a result of the waiting list policy.

Poor communication

Sir Michael highlighted other cases in which poor communication led to serious problems for some patients.

In one complaint, a man in severe abdominal pain was diagnosed by an A&E department as having a torn muscle and discharged.

He died six days later from peritonitis caused by a perforated duodenal ulcer.

Sir Michael found A&E staff did not obtain a full medical history, repeat tests before discharging the man or make it clear he should seek medical advice if the pain did not improve.

Overall poor communications were at the heart of many of the complaints the ombudsman dealt with.

In one case, a pregnant woman diagnosed as needing to have her baby was transferred to another hospital because of a shortage of special care cots. However, in the second trust staff decided not to deliver that night and the baby died.

Sir Michael said: "I have seen examples of misunderstandings between trusts due to poor communications at times when good communications were crucial to the successful transfer of the care of patients between trusts."

Sir Michael also criticised the present NHS complaints process saying it was "unduly complicated and time-consuming."

He added that more could be done locally to resolve complaints.

"I find that complaints about care are often aggravated by failings in the way in which they were managed locally.

"Sometimes this results from simple failures to apply the NHS complaints procedure properly."

The Department of Health is currently considering proposals to overhaul the system.

Sir Michael, who retires later this year, said any new system should have stricter time limits and a fast-tracking of suitable cases to the ombudsman.

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Health Service Ombudsman Sir Michael Buckley
"Patient records are there to improve treatment"
See also:

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