Letter: Towards an NHS that welcomes patients

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The Independent Online
Sir: The failures highlighted in the Health Service ombudsman's annual report ('Complaints about NHS at record levels', 28 July) underline the need for a complete overhaul of complaints procedures in the NHS.

The present jumble of procedures is founded on deference to the interests of medical professionals and on traditional service boundaries that are irrelevant to patients. For example, complaints about medical decisions in hospital are handled separately from non-clinical problems.

Yet another procedure exists to deal with complaints about family health services, such as GPs, dentists and opticians. The Department of Health's review of NHS complaints procedures must lead to the creation of a single system for each district.

That procedure should cover family health services, hospital and community services and every kind of problem - including the clinical judgement of doctors and consultants. It must be designed so that the needs of patients are paramount.

However, it will not be enough simply to get the detail of a complaints procedure right.

The real challenge for those at the top of the medical and administrative hierarchies is to change the organisational culture of the NHS so that it becomes a service that welcomes, rather than discourages, the active involvement of patients.

Yours faithfully,

RUTH EVANS

Director

National Consumer Council

London, SW1

28 July

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