Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Family wants NHS system changes

A review of the NHS complaints system is due to be published

The NHS complaints system must "fundamentally change" so problems in the health service are not swept under the carpet, a bereaved daughter of a poorly-treated patient has said.

Pauline Robles and her family did not get an explanation detailing what happened to their 85-year-old father for eight years.

She said the current system puts "every obstacle" in front of patients' families.

Her comments came as a review into the NHS complaints is due to be published.

Ms Robles' father Reginald Iliffe was admitted to Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, with problems swallowing, three days after being diagnosed with cancer.

The great-grandfather, who had worked for the NHS all his life as a dental technician, died of a heart attack nine days after he was admitted in April 2005, despite the fact that his cancer specialists had said they expected him to live for 18 months.

His family later learned that during his stay he had not been administered any of his heart medication - which he had been taking for more than 20 years.

Because Mr Iliffe had been admitted with a lump on his oesophagus, his medical notes indicated that he was "nil by mouth", so his oral medication was not administered, Ms Robles said.

His daughter said that because no-one bothered to change Mr Iliffe's medical notes so his medication was delivered intravenously, he did not receive any of the crucial drugs.

Soon after his death, his family decided that they wanted to complain about the care he received.

But it took them eight years to get the answers they so desperately wanted - only receiving a letter of apology from the trust in January this year.

Ms Robles said: "After his funeral I decided that we needed to complain about his nursing care because it was unbelievably bad - it was abysmal."

Three months after her father's death she managed to organise a meeting with the hospital - but no-one who actually cared for him during his nine-day stay was in attendance.

"They couldn't explain anything about dad's care," she said. "The meeting was a complete waste of time."

The family went on to write to the hospital trust's chief executive but Ms Robles said he was "very unhelpful" and took months to respond to letters.

After having no joy at the Trust, they wrote to the former health watchdog the Healthcare Commission, but it took more than two years to get a response, Ms Robles added.

"Then we went to the Ombudsman - who upheld our complaint," she said.

"Then we just got a letter from Worcestershire health authority saying they felt they have a 'very robust' complaints procedure.

"By this time we were also complaining about the complaints because it was just going on and on and on.

"We didn't get answers to anything, absolutely nothing. We were never, ever given any explanation as to what happened to dad.

"Everybody fobbed us off, made us wait months and months between letters. We tried every avenue that we could."

She said they also took their plight to two MPs and the local coroner but still had no avail.

After seven years of waiting, she saw an advertisement for law firm Leigh Day in the local paper.

"It was only Emma at Leigh Day that got a letter of apology for us which we got in January this year," she said.

"It took us eight years and without solicitors we would never have had the letter of apology. We were desperate for the letter.

"You just feel as though you are banging your head against a brick wall. They put every obstacle that they can in front of you.

"Something really has to change."

The comments were made just as health officials are to publish a review into the NHS complaints system.

The review was led by MP Ann Clwyd - who protested about the care her late husband received while in hospital last year.

The Prime Minister appointed the Cynon Valley MP, along with Professor Tricia Hart, the chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to conduct the review in the wake of the scandal at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Leigh Day lawyer Emma Jones said: "We welcome this review by Ann Clwyd, which we believe is well overdue.

"Some of our clients have spent up to six years trying to get a response to their complaints.

"Nearly three-quarters of those who we represented at Stafford Hospital felt that the NHS complaints system was tortuous and did not respect the emotional distress caused by having to relive the trauma through making a complaint.

"Instead, all too often, the response they received was bureaucratic or they received no response at all.

"An effective complaints system should provide honest answers to those making the complaint and should be central to the task of identifying issues and preventing them from being repeated.

"It should not be ignored or simply used by trusts to pacify those injured or bereaved."

A spokeswoman for Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Alexandra Hospital, said: "We welcome any initiative that speeds up the complaints system that will enable patients and their relatives to get speedier answers for their concerns."

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