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Only 34% exercise right to complain

Published 13/06/2015

Many people do not bother to complain about poor service by the NHS, research shows
Many people do not bother to complain about poor service by the NHS, research shows

Most people agree they have the right to complain if they have a poor experience when using public services such as the NHS - but few actually do, research has found.

The main reasons for people not saying anything include because they felt it would be pointless and make no difference (29%), it would be more hassle than it is worth (14%) or it would be too time consuming (9%), while 7% of those questioned said they would not know how to make a complaint.

The Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman service said although the vast majority (92%) agree that people have a right to complain about a public service and 90% believe people should complain, only a third (34%) of those who had experienced poor service in the past 12 months did so.

The poll of more than 4,200 people found more than a quarter (27 %) had been unhappy with service they received in the past year.

Healthcare watchdog Healthwatch England said its own research has found that just one in five (21%) of those who have a poor experience of using the NHS actually write a letter of complaint, suggesting that more than half a million potential complaints are slipping under the radar every year.

Its chairwoman, Anna Bradley, said: "The need to create a compassionate complaints system that both gives people answers when things go wrong and ensures the NHS learns from its mistakes has been on top of the Government's to do list since the Francis Inquiry two-and-a-half years ago.

"At the moment we estimate that more than 2,000 incidents of poor care a day occur across the country's health and social care services, yet the system only hears about a fraction of them because of the sheer effort it takes for patients to make themselves heard."

Currently, any member of the public who is not happy with the way a Government department or organisation has handled a complaint must go through their MP before the Ombudsman can look at it, and the survey found three in five (59%) would like to see this filter removed.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: "People are reluctant to make complaints to public services even though they think it is right to complain. Too many people don't know how to complain and feel that if they do it won't make a difference. This means concerns are going unheard or unaddressed.

"Public service providers need to focus on being open and honest when things go wrong. If not, we lose opportunities to learn from mistakes and improve how public services are delivered.

"We have to make complaining more simple and accessible so people have the confidence to complain. That's why we are delighted that the Government has made a firm commitment to create a single Public Service Ombudsman covering all public services for England and UK non-devolved - including health and social care - to make it easier for people to get justice when things go wrong."

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "We know that often people don't complain about public services because they don't think anything will be done, but it's important that people are able to speak up to help prevent the same thing happening again.

"We're pleased the Government listened to our calls to introduce a single public services ombudsman and it must now carefully consider how to make this new body work best for all users of public services, and remove the barriers to complaining."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We want to make the NHS the safest and most transparent healthcare system in the world and listening to patients and staff is vital to improving care.

"That's why we have made it easier for people to know how to complain through clearer information, we've made hospitals legally-obliged to apologise to patients when mistakes happen and introduced complaints handling as a crucial element of tougher hospital inspections."

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