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Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 11:24 GMT
MPs: Reform NHS complaints
The NHS has been criticised for the way it handles patients' complaints

MPs have called for reforms to the way the NHS handles patients' complaints to make the system simpler, fairer and more transparent.

It is vital that the NHS complaints procedure is made more open and transparent
Health Select Committee
The House of Commons Health Select Committee says the current system is perceived by many patients to be unfair.

The committee has called on the Department of Health to consider the introduction of a system of no-fault compensation for patients who receive unsatisfactory care.

Under this system patients would not have to prove negligence on the part of a doctor or nurse to qualify for financial compensation.

The MPs also want the regulatory bodies for doctor, the General Medical Council (GMC), and for nurses, the United Kingdom Central Council (UKCC), to be drawn mainly from members of the public, called lay members, to prevent accusations of bias in the consideration of serious complaints against NHS staff.

The aim of the current complaints system is for most matters to be dealt with at source and as informally as possible.

If patients are still unhappy, a convenor is appointed to decide whether an independent inquiry is required.

Patients unhappy

MPs' proposals
A review of disciplinary procedures for doctors
Protection for whistleblowers
Lay majority for the GMC and UKCC
Initial complaint investigation to be much more thorough
Guidelines to fast-track serious allegations or those that could endanger future patient care
Patients to appeal directly to independent review panels(IPRs)
IPRS to have a lay majority
Consderation of a system of no-fault compensation
However, the Health Select Committee, in their report, Procedures Related to Adverse Clinical Incidents and Outcomes in Medical Care, says many patients believe the system is biased because the convenor is often a member of a trust or health authority board.

The MPs recommend the role of the convenor is scrapped, and that patients be given the right to appeal directly to an independent panel - made up of a majority of lay members - for a review of their case.

In the report, they write: "We consider that it is vital that the NHS complaints procedure is made more open and transparent and that the system is seen to be fair and independent."

MPs also want the disciplinary procedures for doctors to be revamped to ensure they are fair, transparent and consistent.

They have called on the government to take action to protect staff who raise concerns about colleague's performance.

Remove confrontation

Mike Stone, director of the Patients' Association, warned change must be substantial and not cosmetic.

He said a top priority should be to remove the possibility of face to face confrontation between a patient and the doctor against whom a complaint has been lodged.

Mr Stone said: "These changes should have happened years ago. The complaints procedure has really got to be seen from the patients' point of view, rather than from the perspective of an arrogant monopoly such as the NHS."

The British Medical Association said there was no need for a lay majority on the GMC.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA' GP committee, said: "I do not believe there is a need to change the composition of the GMC so soon after it has been re-examined but I do think we can and must take urgent action to spread good practice in dealing with complaints and to make the whole system clearer and fairer to patients."

A UKCC spokesman said: "The UKCC has said for a long time that lay involvement in its work should be strengthened and has actually done something about it in both policy and professional conduct work.

"We are still exploring ways of enhancing lay involvement in all aspects of UKCC business.
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See also:
12 Oct 99 |  Health
GMC 'unfair and biased'
15 Jul 99 |  Health
NHS complaints set for overhaul
17 Jun 99 |  Health
Ombudsman to name unrepentant GPs
12 May 99 |  Health
Call for curbs on GPs who strike patients off

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