Belfast Telegraph

Unhealthy rise in care complaints

Editor's Viewpoint

It is alarming that complaints about the Health Service have risen by more than a quarter during the last four years. But even more disturbing is the fact that around one quarter of the near 6,000 complaints made during the last year concerned the quality of treatment and care.

That is the fundamental role of the service and it should be a matter of concern to both the health trusts and the Department of Health that so many people felt standards were not being met.

The second most voiced complaint was about the attitude of staff. Given the thousands of interactions between staff at all levels and patients, it could be argued that just over 913 complaints is a small figure, but it is still a significant one. It must be stated unequivocally that the vast majority of staff working in the NHS are caring, conscientious and dedicated and are working under increasing pressure. Those working in casualty departments are often subjected to atrocious behaviour, including assaults, by people they seek to treat. It is therefore regrettable that a minority of staff present what is seen as an uncaring face, giving a misleading impression of general standards.

Of course there is a subjective element to all complaints. What one person may regard as a surly attitude would be ignored by another. Perhaps some people have unrealistic expectations, even about the standard of care they should receive. One bright note is that health trusts responded to more than half of complaints within 20 days of receiving them. That is no mean feat given the complexity of the organisations and the treatments they dispense.

It is important that public confidence in the Health Service is maintained and the eepartment, along with the trusts, must initiate an in-depth examination of the complaints received. Proper analysis of patient reactions will enable administrators to discover if there are discernible trends and what remedial action is required. Certainly the scale of complaints and the fact that they are increasing merits further investigation.

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