Hospitals attacked for their hostility to complaints

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NATIONAL HEALTH Service hospitals and GPs are today accused of being hostile and defensive in dealing with complaints from patients. Instead of seeking to resolve problems, doctors and managers try to shift blame and block criticism leaving patients dissatisfied, two reports say.

An investigation of 200 complaints by the charity Help the Aged says patients' lives are being put at risk by the failure of the complaints procedure to act quickly and effectively to deal with issues of neglect. The charity calls for a fast-track system to be introduced.

Many feel daunted by the complexity and length of the complaints process. Even when a complaint is upheld after an independent review or an investigation by the NHS ombudsman there is no requirement on hospitals to respond.

A second report by the Public Law Project, a legal charity, identifies "serious failings" in the complaints procedure, which was reformed in 1996. It includes complaints about GPs disappearing into a "black hole." It says the system must be made more independent.