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Quality of care Northern Ireland public’s main health issue

But number of complaints falls sharply, figures show

Waiting lists, delays and the cancellation of outpatient appointments accounted for 437 complaints (stock photo)
Waiting lists, delays and the cancellation of outpatient appointments accounted for 437 complaints (stock photo)

By Mairead Holland

Quality of treatment and care was the most complained-about health issue in Northern Ireland last year, new statistics have revealed.

There were 1,435 complaints about care and treatment across the six Health and Social Care (HSC) trust areas, with Belfast faring the worst.

However, the overall number of complaints was down by 13.8% since 2014.

There was a further boost for staff with the number of compliments almost quadruple the number of gripes in 2017/18.

The compliments were received via card, email, feedback form, letter or social media.

The fall in complaints has been welcomed by DUP health spokesperson Paula Bradley, who said staff had to work under "incredibly difficult circumstances" and transformation was needed.

Other major areas for dissatisfaction were communication and information, with 952 complaints, followed by staff attitude and behaviour, which attracted 938.

Waiting lists, delays and the cancellation of outpatient appointments accounted for 437 complaints.

In all, 86 complaints per week - 12 a day - were received by the trusts in 2018/2019, for a total of 4,473 complaints.

But the number of compliments received by staff amounted to 16,757 in the same period, according to the Department of Health.

More than half (50.7%) related to quality of treatment and care, and 33.6% to staff attitude and behaviour.

Of the complaints received in the past year, the majority were sent by email, letter, telephone and feedback form.

Almost a third (31.7%) fell into the 'diagnosis, operation and treatment' category, while the highest percentage of complaints related to Accident and Emergency department (691 complaints or 11.4%).

In the past five years, all trusts, except the Western, have seen a fall in complaints.

However, between 2017/18 and 2018/19, the Belfast and South Eastern trusts reported increases of 16.3% and 11.3% respectively.

Between 2014/15 and 2018/19, the largest reduction in the number of complaints (13.4%) was in the 'acute' sector.

In the Family Practitioner Service (FPS) - encompassing GPs, dental practitioners, pharmacists and optometrists - complaints in 2018/19 increased by 77, almost a third, compared to the previous year, when there were 240.

North Belfast DUP MLA Ms Bradley said: "Hospital staff often have to treat people under incredibly difficult circumstances, and within a challenging financial climate.

"Transformation within healthcare is needed to make experiences better.

"The DUP team at the Stormont talks has raised the importance of a strong focus on modernising healthcare and slashing waiting times for a restored Northern Ireland government.

"The DUP was able to secure hundreds of millions as part of our confidence and supply agreement for healthcare transformation.

"The best way to ensure patients have access to better treatments, hospitals and quick assessments is by having a locally elected health minister in post."

Meanwhile, the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds called for action on cancer waiting lists in the House of Commons.

Last week, cancer waiting times were described by the Department of Health as "unacceptable" after it was revealed 200 people were not seen by a specialist within the 14-day target.

Mr Dodds said: "In the final weeks of the Prime Minister's tenure, it is an issue which must be prioritised."

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