Report finds NHS ‘wall of silence’ for families

Wigan Infirmary
Wigan Infirmary

WIGAN health bosses have defended their complaints procedure after a national report exposed inconsistent approaches between Trusts.

A service ombudsman investigation found NHS hospitals cleared staff of blame in almost three quarters of “avoidable” patient death and serious harm cases.

And internal probes were not “consistent, reliable or transparent”.

Author of the report Dame Julie Mellor accused the NHS Trusts investigated, the names of which have not been released, of putting up a “wall of silence” for families whose loved ones had died as a result of service failures.

A spokesman for WWL told the Evening Post: “We have a robust complaints procedure and welcome comments about the service we offer to our patients so that we can continue to further improve the care we provide.

“All complaints are investigated thoroughly and a response is sent to the complainant from the Trust’s Chief Executive or representative.”

Dame Julie said: “Our review found that NHS investigations into complaints about avoidable death and harm are simply not good enough. They are not consistent, reliable or transparent, which means that too many people are being forced to bring their complaint to us to get it resolved.

“We want the NHS to introduce an accredited training programme for staff carrying out these investigations as well as guidance on how they should be done, so the public can be confident that when someone is needlessly harmed it has been thoroughly investigated and answers provided, so that action can be taken to prevent the same mistakes from happening again.”

The report, A Review Into The Quality Of NHS Complaints Investigations Where Serious Or Avoidable Harm Has Been Alleged, was launched after the ombudsman found a wide variation in the quality of investigations carried out by the NHS into complaints about avoidable death and harm, it said.

It was based on interviews with hospital staff, a survey of NHS complaint managers and a review of unresolved NHS complaints brought to it. It looked at 150 complaints and found that 40 internal hospital probes were “not adequate”.

It noted: “In nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of cases where the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found clear failings, hospitals claimed in their earlier investigations of the same incident that they hadn’t found any failings.”

It also found that even where care failures were discovered trusts did not always take steps to stop the same mistakes reoccurring.

The WWL spokesman added: “WWL listens to all comments and concerns expressed by patients or their relatives and carers and we have seen a reduction in formal complaints which can mainly be attributed to the more proactive role of the PALS service.

“This entails immediate involvement of the divisions to liaise and respond to concerns in real time. By providing the link between staff, patient, relative or carer and offering the support to everyone involved this leads to a greater degree of satisfaction to all concerned.”

More than half (52 per cent) of internal investigations where a clinician reviewed what had happened were carried out by medics “not independent of the events complained about”, the review discovered.

Hospitals failed to class more than two thirds (20 of 28) of avoidable harm cases as serious incidents, meaning that they were not properly investigated, it also found.

And senior managers were blamed for not discussing possible improvements with frontline staff. The report also found no consistency of training for NHS investigators.