Staff attitude and the quality of care and treatment are the main reasons behind almost 6,000 complaints to health trusts in Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.
The number of complaints raised has jumped by more than a quarter during the last four years, according to a report by the Department of Health.
It reveals 5,998 were made to the five health trusts, the Ambulance Service, the Health and Social Care Board and family practitioner services in the 12 months to April 2013.
That number has risen by 1,265 (26.7%) compared to the 2009/10 year.
The biggest increase was recorded by the South Eastern Trust, where complaints have surged by almost 50% from 977 to 1,459.
Poor attitude or behaviour from staff accounted for the second highest number of complaints across Northern Ireland as a whole, with incidents increasing by 15% since 2009/10.
Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy, who is a member of the Assembly’s health committee, said he was concerned.
“It is worrying to say the least,” he said. “It does surprise me because in my experience the health system has always been very caring.
“It shouldn’t happen, and if it is the case then more should be done to reduce complaints and issues of concern.”
SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt, who also sits on the committee, said the rise in complaints did not necessarily mean more things were going wrong.
“It is a good thing that people feel able to complain and their complaints are getting dealt with,” he said.
“Inevitably in an organisation as large as the health system, things will go wrong and standards will not always be met.
“Of course it would be great to have a system where no complaints were made, but we need to be realistic and it is good the department is open and transparent.”
The key points from the report include:
Over one-third of complaint issues (35.2%) were received by the Belfast Trust.
Three in 10 complaints related to a diagnosis, operation or treatment.
Over (52%) of substantive responses were provided within 20 working days of a trust receiving the complaint.
The Belfast Trust, Northern Ireland’s biggest health trust, accounted for 2,113 of the 5,998 complaints.
It had the highest number of issues relating to diagnosis, operation or treatment, appointments and waiting times, and patient experience.
The South Eastern Trust recorded the second highest number (1,459), followed by the Northern Trust (856).
The Belfast and South Eastern Trust each reported a complaint relating to their mortuary procedures.
Although precise information on the circumstances of complaints is not provided by trusts, the report includes a breakdown by general complaint categories.
Some 1,403 complaints related to the quality of treatment and care while 913 referred to poor staff attitude or behaviour.
Another 787 related to communication issues or the information provided to patients.
Delays or cancellations of outpatient appointments led to a further 403 complaints.