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Complaints over Northern Ireland health care jump by more than 60% in just 12 months

By Victoria O'Hara

Complaints about the health service in Northern Ireland have jumped by more than 60% in a year, a new report has revealed.

The Patient Client Council (PCC) said that in the last 12 months, some 1,935 people contacted it seeking advice and support and with a complaint.

That signalled a 64% jump on last year and the single biggest annual increase since 2009.

The study showed that between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014 a catalogue of incidents were reported in which patients and their families were let down, leading to the health trusts admitting they had failed patients.

Treatment and care was the most common cause of complaint, a factor in 65.3% of cases in 2013/14.

Communication was a contributing factor in a third of complaints, staff attitudes or behaviour was an issue in 26.8% of cases, and waiting times in 23.4% of cases.

Further examples featured in the report included basic levels of patient hygiene not being met and medical and nursing staff failing to communicate with a patient's family.

Among the shocking cases which led to complaints was one concerning a patient who had a brain haemorrahage. Their family feared they were having a second haemorrhage and wanted an MRI scan carried out –but the doctor insisted the patient was just disorientated.

The patient subsequently deteriorated and needed further surgery. The family received an apology, with the unidentified trust admitting it had failed the patient.

In another case a patient with advanced dementia had to wait in a storage area to be treated in an A&E.

They had to be moved as the unit was described as being "in chaos". The noise, crowds, and unfamiliar surroundings led to the patient being upset.

Maeve Hully, chief executive of the PCC, said learning from complaints was key.

"It is disappointing that the issues raised continue to be the same, and more often than not they are issues which can be resolved without additional money," she said.

"A service can't improve unless it knows what it's doing wrong. It's the responsibility of health and social care services to respond to complaints and make sure plans are put in place so all patients have consistent, high quality experiences."

A spokeswoman for the Health and Social Care Board said the number of complaints received in comparison to the number of patient contacts with the health and social care service each year, was a small percentage. She added that action was being taken to address complaints more effectively.

Factfile

  • 1,935 people contacted the PCC's Complaints Support Service in 2013/14.
  • 41.1% of cases wished to make a formal complaint
  • Treatment and care was the most common cause of complaint, an issue in 65.3% of cases
  • Communication was a contributing factor in a third of complaints in the past year (33.2%)

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