Call for public sector revolution
Tragedies like the Mid Staffs scandal could be repeated unless there is a revolution in the way the public sector is run, a Commons committee has warned.
MPs found managers are often in denial about criticism of the services they are in charge of and the public believes there is little point in making complaints, which is creating a "toxic cocktail".
The Commons Public Administration Committee (PASC) highlighted the failures that were exposed in the damning report by Robert Francis QC on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which found that as many as 1,200 patients might have died needlessly after they were ''routinely neglected''.
It called for ministers to show leadership and force a culture change across the public sector to prevent future tragedies.
Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin said: "There needs to be a revolution in the way public services are run, and how the public perceives Government.
"As things are, most people believe there is no point in complaining. The shocking collapse of care at Mid-Staffs hospital should be a warning to the whole public sector that too many managers in public services are in denial about what their customers and their staff think about them. The Francis Report gave no comfort that the culture of denial does not exist across most of the NHS, though we hope that is now changing.
"There are encouraging signs of increased attention to good complaints handling, but the Government itself does not comply with best practice in complaints handling or adapting to the needs and expectations of today's citizen. This starts from the top. Government itself needs to lead by example. That's why ministerial leadership is crucial.
"Unless and until we have a culture of leadership in public services that listens to, values and responds to complaints, from service users and staff, there will always be the potential for tragedies like Mid-Staffs, and opportunities to improve services and public confidence will be missed again and again."
A minister for complaints should be introduced along with a dedicated unit to deal with grievances about government departments and agencies, the PASC recommended.
Its re port, More Complaints Please, found public sector managers viewed complaints as " hostile criticism" rather than a chance to tackle problems.
MPs called for a culture where complaints are valued to be put at the heart of public sector organisations and said the need for strong leadership could not be overstated.
"Complaints must be valued from the very top of an organisation and seen as something to be welcomed," the report added.
MPs called for the Cabinet Office to work with high performing public and private sector companies to find the best ways of dealing with the issue.
They also called for euphemistic terms for complaints to be banned, arguing "a complaint is a complaint" and hiding behind other terms leads to confusion.
Julie Mellor, parliamentary and health service ombudsman, said: " We agree with the Public Administration Select Committee's findings that learning from complaints needs to be embedded into the culture of government departments and agencies.
"Today's select committee findings present an opportunity for organisations to deal more effectively with complaints and develop ways to learn from those mistakes. Good complaint handling has to start from the top, and strong leaders will recognise the valuable opportunities complaints provide to really improve the service they are delivering and increase customer satisfaction.
"We think there is much more to be done in this area and will be carrying out research into how departmental boards are engaging with complaints and using them to learn, improve and innovate. We look forward to working with the Cabinet Office and hope their review into government complaints systems will explore with departments how boards can use the experience of complainants to make improvements across public services."
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: " It's essential for better public services that the Government makes it easier and more effective for people to complain. If complaints about bad experiences trigger action to put things right they can help prevent the same problem happening again to others.
"We have found that people often don't speak up because they don't think anything will change. Giving people a single point of contact, and having a minister who is responsible for complaints, should help give people more confidence that complaints do count."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We are committed to improving public services. The tragic events at Mid Staffordshire were a turning point for the NHS and the Francis Inquiry showed just how important it is that there is an open and transparent culture where complaints are listened to, and action is taken to improve services.
"The Government welcomes PASC's work in this area, and will respond to the committee's report in due course."