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MPs Urge Overhaul of NHS Complaints System

MPs Urge Overhaul of NHS Complaints System

A committee of MPs is urging an overhaul of the NHS complaints system, saying it is currently failing patients in their access to justice.

The health select committee says it is vital for there to be a more "open culture" regarding NHS complaints. The main focus of their criticism, however, fell on the Health Ombudsman, whose role has been described as too narrow.

Taking complaints directly to the Health Ombudsman is a relatively recent innovation. All complaints not settled locally were previously reviewed by the Healthcare Commission, being referred to the Health Ombudsman only when necessary. This changed in April 2009 when the Healthcare Commission was abandoned in an attempt to make the process faster and more efficient.

Nevertheless, critics believe this new procedure means some complaints are failing to be addressed. Indeed, in 2009-2010, the ombudsman investigated just 3% of about 15,000 health care complaints it received.

Chairman of the health select committee, Stephen Dorrell, expressed his concerns over the ombudsman's current lack of responsibility. He said: "Patients should feel entitled to an independent review. That mismatch between patients' expectations and what the ombudsman does in practice needs to be closed."

Action Against Medical Accidents agree with the committee, suggesting some complaints appear to be falling into a "black hole". Chief executive Peter Walsh said: "We are very pleased that the committee has accepted our and other participants' calls for better access to independent review of complaints."

"Only a fraction of people who had independent reviews under the old system can get the ombudsman to investigate."

In response, a spokeswoman for the Health Ombudsman said: "The system for handling NHS complaints is a complex one. We welcome the report's endorsement of the current system's design and potential, its emphasis on listening to patients and support for advocacy and the committee's call for a greater focus on complaints data and learning from complaints."

The Department of Health has announced new plans will make the NHS more accountable.

"The revised plans we set out last week, in response to the independent NHS Future Forum, will safeguard the future of the NHS and put patients at the heart of our health service," a spokesman said.

"Under the plans, patients will have a stronger voice and the NHS will be more accountable for the quality of care it provides for patients."

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