The NHS is not doing enough to resolve patient complaints at a local level, says the health service inspectorate.
A backlog of complaints has built up
The Healthcare Commission handles complaints the NHS cannot resolve.
Its figures show over 25% of those complaints are sent back because investigators believe more could be done to resolve them at local level.
This has meant a large backlog of complaints has built up, and many people are waiting for long periods for a resolution to their problem.
The Healthcare Commission took over responsibility for resolving knotty problems last August.
Since then nearly it has received nearly 7,000 requests to review complaints about the NHS in just 10 months.
This compares to less than 3,000 in the same period under the previous NHS system.
Marcia Fry, a Healthcare Commission spokeswoman, said measures were in place to deal with backlog as soon as possible.
More staff have been taken on, and an external consultancy firm has been hired to help out.
The commission is also trialling a mediation service which will give both parties an opportunity to sit down together at an early stage to reach an agreement.
However, she also warned that trusts who failed to deal with complaints adequately at local level could see their annual performance rating fall.
To improve complaints handling, the commission is developing new criteria for good complaints handling which will be used to assess trust performance.
Ms Fry said: "We are determined to crack this, but it can only be done if everyone else does their bit.
"Everyone loses if complaints are not dealt with properly at a local level - patients, ourselves and the NHS."
Unresolved complaints sent to the commission are mainly about:
- poor communication with patients and relatives
- poor clinical practice
- an unsatisfactory patient experience
- poor staff attitude
- poor complaints handling
However, a significant number of complaints are being made about the poor handling of bereavement and unsatisfactory care of the elderly.
Gary Fereday, of the NHS Confederation, said the increase in complaints might be the result of people believing the new system was more independent.
Although complaints used to be handled by so-called independent review panels, these included a non-executive member of the trust under investigation.
However, Mr Fereday said: "We are going to have to go away and look at these figures in detail."