Belfast Telegraph

6,000 health trust complaints in Northern Ireland

Sharp spike in mental health care objections

By Allan Preston

Health trusts in Northern Ireland have received 6,189 complaints over the past year, new figures from the Department of Health have revealed.

The statistics released yesterday detail the complaints raised by patients and clients across the six Health Trusts, the HSC board and Family Practitioner service for the year ending in March 2017.

Most of the complaints (3,703, 59.8%) related to dissatisfaction with acute care services.

A quarter (1,775, 28.7%) focused on diagnosis, operation and treatment while one in 10 (684, 11.1%) related to accident and emergency care.

The average age of patients/clients making the complaints was 50, with just over half of the issues (57%) raised by women.

In the past five years, mental health care has seen the sharpest spike in complaints (38.6%) from 315 to 431.

In contrast, issues taken with the quality of prisoner health care have halved in the last year from 109 in 2015/16 to 46.

Four out of the six trusts have also been on the receiving end of more complaints over the last five years, with the Western Health Trust hit the hardest with an increase from 591 in 2012/13 to 1,030.

Overall, the level of complaints has reduced from a peak in 2014/15 with 7,015 issues raised, while the lowest figure was recorded in 2012/13 at 5,998.

On Wednesday, the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire announced an extra £60m in funding for the Health Service.

The money is part of £131m in unspent departmental cash carried forward from last year's budget, and separate from the £1bn deal agreed by the DUP and Conservatives.

Mr Brokenshire has said the UK government would be obliged to take funding decisions again if the Stormont Government could not reach agreement by the autumn.

"If resolution continues to prove intractable beyond that point, we will take further steps to provide the necessary political decision-making in the best interests of everyone in Northern Ireland," he said.

The SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA, said the extra funding would ease some acute pressures, but called on other parties to decide the immediate future of Northern Ireland's health service themselves.

"We need a more strategic approach to transforming our health service than simply throwing money at it," he said.

"GP provision, acute service retention, workforce planning and many of the other complex issues cannot be dealt with by signing a cheque every few months. Patients know that, frontline health service staff know that and political leaders know that."

Mr Durkan was also critical that the Bengoa report, a major review of Northern Ireland's health service published in October last year, appeared to be gathering dust.

"We need a robust and costed implementation plan that will deliver a rationalised and enhanced service that meets the needs of patients," he said.

"There's no space for political drift over the summer. Not while patients and staff need action."

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