Healthwatch Cumbria and Cumbria Health Security committees have published a damning report into how medical complaints are handled in their area. It has been found that Cumbrian patients were afraid to make complaints and that their complaints were handled “defensively” by health staff. It was also found that complaint procedures were complex and that there was a general lack of understanding amongst staff of the procedures. Complaint handling was also found to be lagging behind recommended targets.
The report has called for health and social care workers across Cumbria to adopt a single, more simplified process for complaint handling. The process should be clear and consistent and adhere to a timescale. It should be accessible to all staff across the area and an audit trail of responsible people should be clearly recorded.
“inconsistent at handling complaints”
The situation was instigated after Healthwatch discovered that patients were often having cause to complain, often about very serious experiences, and were experiencing even more stress with the complaint handling than the original complaint itself. The report stated that health and social care workers were: “inconsistent at handling complaints”. It found that there was: “a lack of information, knowledge and understanding about the complaints process and this caused additional strain on those who had already had reason to be distressed”.
It was reported that not enough information on how to make a complaint was available to patients, and that resolutions were of a variable quality – many not being responded to within the NHS standard of three days. Patients were also afraid to complain if they were about to embark on lengthy treatment plans.