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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February, 2005, 02:28 GMT
NHS complaints backlog hits 4,000
A third of the complaints relate to hospital care
The health watchdog has hired a consultancy firm to help ease a backlog of nearly 4,000 patient complaints.

The Healthcare Commission has been forced into the move - just six months into the job - as there had been a huge surge in grievances.

The 45 Huntswood Outsourcing staff will deal with "low risk" complaints, the Health Service Journal reported.

Only 525 of 4,500 complaints have been solved but the commission said it was confident the backlog would be tackled.

A third of the protests received deal with hospital care, with 22% relating to primary care practitioners such as dentists and GPs.

How NHS complaints work
Complaints at the first stage are made to the local NHS trust
If the dispute cannot be resolved, it is then passed on to the Healthcare Commission
The commission then either makes a decision or in the most serious cases it is passed on to the ombudsman or General Medical Council

Marcia Fry, the commission's head of operational development, said: "We recognise that because of the unexpectedly high numbers there have been some delays.

"However, we are committed to ensuring that by the end of the February all complainants will have received an update on the status of their complaint."

If the complaints continue to be received at the current rate, 9,000 will be logged by the end of the commission's first year in charge - three times as many as were submitted the previous year.

New regime

The commission said the rise was partly due to increased confidence in the new regime - the NHS used to handled complaints itself.

Officials also said a number of NHS trusts, which pass complaints on to the commission if they cannot be resolved at a local level, had been holding on to them until the commission took on the responsibility in August.

Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association, said he had a degree of sympathy for the commission.

"We like the commission, it has been doing a good job. I think part of the problem is that this is a legacy left over from the previous regime.

If you are concerned that your loved one actually did not receive the quality of care they should have and died needlessly, you are going to want that looked at pretty quickly
Ann Abraham, the parliamentary and health service ombudsman

"The commission has been given the job of clearing up a bit of a mess.

"But the important thing for patients is that the commission gets to grips with this as quickly as possible.

"Complaints need to be handled in a thorough way."

Ann Abraham, the parliamentary and health service ombudsman, said she was growing extremely concerned about the situation.

"People aren't getting their complaints looked at in a timely manner.

"If you are concerned that your loved one actually did not receive the quality of care they should have and died needlessly, you are going to want that looked at pretty quickly."

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