NHS receives 3,000 patient complaints a week


Patients lodged 3,000 complaints about their experience of the NHS every week in the past year, figures suggest.

Between 2011 and 2012 there were 162,100 complaints made - just over 3,100 a week - according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

Almost half of the complaints made about services in hospitals and community health services were about hospital doctors and surgeons while more than one in five of the complaints were made about nurses, midwives and health visitors.

There were 54,900 written complaints about GP practices and NHS dental services - a rise of 8% on the previous year.

A third of these were based on the decisions, advice and treatment provided by a care professional, according to the HSCIC figures.

NHS Confederation deputy chief executive David Stout said: "An increase in the number of complaints doesn't necessarily mean that patients are less satisfied with their care. Although it sounds peculiar, a rise in complaints data can actually mean that patients feel more engaged with their local NHS and want to work with it to improve.

"It's also a sign that patients are confident their concerns will be listened to and acted upon.

"We also need to keep these figures in proportion. The NHS sees more than 1 million patients every 36 hours and performs hundreds of millions of treatments every year, and only a very small proportion of these ever give cause for complaint.

"Nevertheless, in an NHS committed to delivering safe, high-quality services, there must be robust systems in place to learn from occasions where things go wrong, so it is right that NHS organisations are open to hearing from patients about all experiences, good and bad, and make it easy for patients to raise concerns where necessary."

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said: "If someone is dissatisfied with the NHS services they receive, it is right they complain, and have that complaint properly investigated.

"Like-for-like, NHS hospitals and community health services had 2,200 fewer complaints than the previous year. However, for the first time, all NHS organisations have submitted information about their complaints. This has led to a small rise in the overall number of complaints recorded.

"Our reforms to the NHS will give patients a stronger voice, and the NHS will be more accountable for the quality of care it provides for patients. The new patient champion, HealthWatch, will argue on behalf of patients, helping to drive improvements in the quality of health and social care services."

Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said: "This is yet another worrying sign of an NHS heading in the wrong direction.

"In just two years the Prime Minister has turned a successful NHS into a service that's demoralised, destabilised and fearful of the future."

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: "These figures on NHS complaints are just the tip of the iceberg.

"Our helpline is inundated with calls from patients who have either been put off from complaining because they have no faith in what can be a hugely difficult system to navigate, or they have gone through a process only to receive no response or answers to the issues they raise.

"Others tell us that they are afraid to complain because they fear it may have a negative impact on their treatment. It is crucial that patients, carers and the public feel able to express their concerns about NHS care so Government, trusts and clinicians can address the need for improved services."