Health officials have unveiled a new system which they say will make it easier for patients to complain when things go wrong.
They claim the system – which will be trialled from April this year before being rolled out nationally next year – will be more user-friendly and will help cut down on bureaucracy.
Currently there are two separate complaints procedures for health and adult social care.
The current system for NHS complaints can go through three stages – local resolution, investigation by the Healthcare Commission and then by the Health Service Ombudsman – while there are four stages for dealing with social care complaints.
Personal and flexible
But the new, simpler system will focus on resolving complaints locally, followed by an investigation by the health or local government ombudsman.
Ministers say the new procedures will be more personal and flexible and will make sure people with complaints have access to effective support.
The system will also give people the option of complaining to their primary care trust (PCT) about their GP, instead of complaining directly to the practice concerned.
Health Minister Ann Keen said: ‘I know people find the current complaints system confusing. Some may also avoid complaining because they feel too intimidated or worry about damaging their relationship with their GP or social worker. This must change.
‘This new streamlined approach will remove the need to follow a rigid set of procedures and replace them with a more open, flexible and personal service.’
Take a look at our guide to complaining about a healthcare proffesional.
Which? Policy Adviser Kate Webb said: ‘Improvements to the complaints process are long overdue. We hope that today’s proposals really will result in a better deal for patients who embark on the often tortuous process of making a complaint when they have a problem with their care or treatment.
‘Which? research has shown that many consumers who felt they had cause to make a complaint failed to do so because they did not think it would make a difference or the process was simply too complicated.
‘In a patient-centred NHS, good complaint handling is vital, not least as a way of learning and improving services for the future. If these plans are to make a real difference, and lead to improvements in NHS care, they have to be adequately resourced and supported.
‘Getting the complaints system right is just one element of wider improvements that are needed to make it easier for patients to give feedback on their experiences.’
Impatient for Change
Which? recently launched our Impatient for Change campaign, which received the backing of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
We aiming to improve all aspects of non-clinical care for hospital in-patients in the NHS such as the quality of hospital food, cleanliness levels and the dignity and respect shown to patients.