Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Health Trust takes nearly four years to investigate patient complaint

By Staff Reporter

An investigation into a patient's complaint by the Belfast Health Trust took almost four years, it has been reported.

The shocking three year, nine-month wait emerged following a series of Freedom of Information requests to the five health trusts across Northern Ireland over the longest-running Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) investigations.

Investigative website The Detail asked the five health trusts for a breakdown of the top 10 longest delays across each level of SAI investigation during the last five years.

It received information which involved 105 cases which took from a number of months to years.

In recent years a single investigation process for all SAIs was replaced with three levels of investigation.

The purpose of a level one investigation is to establish quickly what has happened, a level two investigation involves a more detailed review that should still be completed within 12 weeks and a level three investigation is when independent expert advice is required.

Most of the trusts only had a small number of level three SAIs, The Detail reported.

The Belfast, South Eastern and Southern Trusts were able to provide data over a five-year period.

However, the Northern Trust only provided its information over a three-year period and the Western Trust two years.

The longest time period for a single SAI investigation occurred in the Belfast Trust at three years and nine months. No more information was given by The Detail on this case.

However, it reported that unexpected risks to patients or staff members was the most common category of SAI investigation, followed by serious injury or unexplained deaths and child deaths.

There was one case of a "suspected homicide" in the Southern Trust that took over a year to investigate as an SAI. There was no further information on the case.

Of the 105 SAI cases examined by The Detail, 17 patients or families were not informed that an investigation had taken place.

Overall responsibility for SAI investigations lies with the Health and Social Care Board.

A board spokesperson said: "Whilst timescales for completing reviews are of key importance, there are factors which can legitimately delay the completion of reviews such as availability of review team members or relevant stakeholders or effective service user/carer/family engagement.

"It should be noted that local learning and immediate actions can, however, be undertaken within an organisation in advance of a review reporting being submitted to the HSCB."

The board also said that in certain circumstances, such as SAIs relating to child protection or cases of criminality, reports may be delayed because of enquires being undertaken by other statutory agencies.

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