Watchdog launches consultation on an NHS ‘Complaint Standards Framework’

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has presented a report, called Making Complaints Count, to Parliament describing the NHS complaints system in “urgent need of reform and investment”. It says that the weaknesses in the current system lead to missed learning on patient safety – a key feature of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The PHSO’s report echoes Healthwatch England’s findings in Shifting the mind-set published earlier this year, which looked at how well hospitals are sharing outputs of their work on complaints and whether the current efforts were sufficient to build trust. But its findings were mixed with local reporting found to be inconsistent and inaccessible.

Mr Behrens makes a clarion call for the PHSO to be given statutory powers – something he called  for more than three years ago when he took up his role.

He is also proposing a new “Complaint Standards Framework” which he says there is widespread support for in the health sector. In collaboration, the PHSO has developed a voluntary approach – a draft non-statutory framework to promote “consistent, high quality complaint handling” in the NHS.

A range of stakeholders have been involved in the development of the draft framework from the CQC to DHSC, Healthwatch England and NHS England. Its objective is to “provide a consistent approach and support to frontline staff, as well as assisting senior leaders” as the report finds that investigations are “often carried out by staff who have limited or no training, or who lack appropriate support”.

Have your say by 18 September

A consultation on the draft framework has been launched to gather views on what the final version should include. The PHSO has launched a campaign, Let’s #MakeComplaintsCount to encourage health sector engagement. You can share your views by taking part in the survey here.

Commenting on the consultation, the Ombudsman said:

'It is vital that we now listen to a wide range of perspectives and I encourage anyone with an interest – health sector professionals and general public alike - to have their say'.

The launch of the watchdog’s consultation followed shortly after the publication of Baroness Cumberlege’s report, First Do No Harm on 8 July which looked at the patients who suffered avoidable harm as a result of three NHS treatments (pelvic mesh implants, the anti-epilepsy drug sodium valproate and primodos, the hormone pregnancy test). A key finding of the review is a healthcare system that is “disjointed, siloed, unresponsive and defensive” – and a key recommendation is the appointment of a patient safety commissioner. Responding to this recommendation in an interview with the Health Service Journal, Mr Behrens warned of a system “overcrowded with regulators”. We understand that Mr Behrens is due to meet with Baroness Cumberlege to discuss her recommendation.

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