The NHS must improve the way it handles patient complaints
Complaints offer an early warning system that trusts can use to identify pockets of poor care
Guardian Professional, Wednesday 20 March 2013
Today, more than 300 senior leaders from NHS trusts will gather for theFoundation Trust Network’s conference Governance after Francis and the NHS reforms, which will highlight how the NHS has to improve the way that it listens to patients.
Robert Francis ended the presentation of his recent report with the message:
Individual patients and their treatment are what really matters. Statistics, benchmarks and action plans are tools, not ends in themselves. They should not come before patients and their experiences.
One area we will be focusing on is patient complaints. It’s an issue highlighted in the Francis report: the failure to listen, or to listen properly to complaints; formulaic complaint responses; inadequate action taken in response to complaints; and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that patients’ complaints hardly ever reached directors.
Although the statement may jar with some, healthcare is, in large part, a customer service business.
Trusts can learn from how the best customer service businesses treat complaints – as a valuable source of intelligence on where to improve; as an opportunity to win back the customer’s loyalty and as a means of genuinely apologising for any failures in service. Clearly, delivering healthcare is more complex and safety critical than selling burgers or hotel rooms but it was fascinating to hear at this month’s Nuffield Trust Summit how much emphasis the best US healthcare organisations put on managing their customer experience (valet parking at their hospitals was my favourite).
Trusts can also learn from each other because we know that the best trusts are already matching some of the best customer service practice.
Michele Moran, chief executive of Manchester mental health and social care trust, for example, will tell our conference about how her trust has taken imaginative steps to capture patient feedback, such as using a video booth.
Oxford University hospitals pulls together clinicians, nurses and a manager to review each patient complaint. One (non-medical) example of changed practice that came about through examining patient complaints was greater attention to checking tissues that may be scooped up with sheets heading for the laundry. This came through patients complaining that their false teeth had been thrown away by accident, causing them distress and expense. Every formal complaint response is personally checked by the chief executive.
North East ambulance foundation trust tries to contact complainants by telephone for an initial chat to understand what is at the heart of a complaint. For serious cases, the families receive home visits and may be offered a family liaison officer – usually clinicians who have gone through a similar training to a police family liaison officer. As a result of complaints, NHS Pathways, which operates a triage system for 999 calls, has improved processes.
The NHS received 150,859 complaints in 2011-12, a rise of 1.3% on the previous year. Around 10% of those go to the health service ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, who will also be talking at today’s conference about board governance and complaints handling. She will bring a valuable national perspective on what trusts can and should be doing to resolve complaints before they reach her organisation – something that will benefit patients, trusts and the ombudsman alike.
The Foundation Trust Network has already highlighted the fact that poor pockets of care exist across all type of trust, high performing organisations as well as those performing less well. All the evidence shows that complaints are a key and effective early warning system that trust boards can use to identify whether and where these pockets exist within their organisations.
Chris Hopson is chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network
Credit : Guardian Newspaper http://www.guardian.co.uk/healthcare-network/2013/mar/20/nhs-improve-handling-patient-complaints