Patients criticise hospital reticence

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The Independent Online
POOR communication is the main cause of complaint by patients about hospital care, the Audit Commission said yesterday. Doing the job better could save the NHS time and money, and the emotional stress of patients and staff.

In its first attempt to look at the NHS from the patient's point of view, the commission, which acts as a value-for-money watchdog for the NHS, found that many patients do not get the basic information they need about where to go, who to talk to and what will happen to them in hospital.

They do not always understand what doctors say about what is wrong and what treatment they will receive. And hospitals are poor at letting patients express their views. Complaints - which are rising nationally - should not be resented but seen as 'a valuable source of information', allowing hospitals to identify ways of improving services, the commission said in a report on patient communication.

The study found that too often patients are not told about risks and complications before deciding to have waiting-list surgery; that too often patients are undressed and put on a couch for doctors, leaving them 'stripped of their dignity as well as their clothes'; and patients told that they have cancer can often be so shocked and numbed they cannot take anything in clearly.

The study comes as the National Consumer Council said that a large-scale survey shows most patients feel the NHS has not improved since the Government's health reforms, and may even have got worse.

Twice as many patients (1 in 8 rather than 1 in 16) reported difficulty getting in-patient treatment, compared to 1989, fewer people are visiting opticians, perhaps because of the cost of the eye test, and 28 per cent of consumers had difficulty finding an NHS dentist.