Watchdog reports on how hospitals are faring on complaints

But has there been a change in hospital reporting on complaints since the Mid Staffs public inquiry?

Healthwatch England has published its report Shifting the mind-set: a closer look at hospital complaints which investigates how well hospitals up and down the country share the outputs of their work on complaints and whether the current efforts are sufficient to build public trust.

The foreword is written by Sir Robert Francis QC. He notes that it is almost seven years since the Mid Staffs Inquiry published its final report. Its recommendations, included improving the process for dealing with complaints and ensuring that the learning from complaints was implemented and outcomes shared with the public, a key feature to preventing future failures in the future.

Healthwatch’s findings are mixed with local reporting on complaints found to be inconsistent and inaccessible. Just one in eight hospital trusts (12 per cent) demonstrated that they were compliant with the statutory regulations when it comes to reporting on complaints and only 38 per cent of trusts made public any information on the changes they’ve made in response to complaints – and much of this reporting is still “only high level”, providing limited information about what has changed and only stating that “improvements were made”.

10 recommendations to improve “quality and transparency in learning from complaints” under three key themes

Improving transparency

1. Hospital trusts to publish regular complaint reports detailing learning and improvements made.       

How?

  • By the Department of Health and Social Care updating Regulation 18 of the Local Authority Social Services and National Health Service Complaints (England) Regulations to require hospitals to publish complaints reports.
  • NHS England and NHS Improvement requiring CCGs to monitor compliance with complaints regulations and intervene in local processes where necessary.

2. To improve public confidence in the complaints system, hospitals should work to communicate learning from complaints with the public in more accessible ways.

How?

  • Leaflets
  • You said / we did display boards

3. Hospitals should collect demographic data, including protected characteristics, as part of the complaints process.

How?

  • Amending Regulation 17 of the Local Authority Social Services and National Health Service Complaints (England) Regulations to require collection of demographic information.
  • NHS Digital requiring demographic data submission as part of the national dataset on NHS complaints.

Developing and supporting hospital staff/boards

4. More should be done to empower complaints managers and staff in hospitals to be proactive in demonstrating learning from complaints and transparency in reporting.

5. The national NHS Complaints Managers Forum, which has existed as a voluntary group, should be formally resources and supported by NHSE/I.

6. NHSE/I should work with trust boards to embed the Good Governance Institute’s guidance on transparency around complaints. This should be linked to consideration of how trusts can embed the Just and Learning Culture Charter developed by NHS Resolution in their report, Being Fair.

A system-wide approach

7.  A new single organisation should be empowered to act as a national complaints standards authority tasked with developing national good practice, training and monitoring on reporting and learning from complaints.

8. The Department should consider commissioning an independent body to conduct a holistic review of the complaints system.

9. National organisations like NHSE/I and Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman should lead by example in publishing detailed thematic analysis and learning from their own complaints processes.

10. National oversight of the complaints systems should be linked to regional and local learning, including at the Integrated Care System level.

Comment

It is fair to say that there have been improvements in the way complaints are managed – and since the 2013 Mid Staffs inquiry report, but there is always room for improvement. Our experience is certainly that a thorough, detailed and timely complaints investigation and response can help facilitate early resolution (one way or the other).

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