Hospital trusts at fault for ‘poor communication, treatment and diagnosis errors’ in many complaints, claims watchdog

Errors in diagnosis, poor treatment and lacklustre communication by hospital trusts have been blamed for rising numbers of complaints reaching a health service watchdog.

Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The criticism came as part of a new report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which has revealed that it received 2,500 more enquiries relating to NHS complaints last year than it did in 2013-14. Within that the number of enquiries about hospital trust complaints rose by almost 700 to 8,853.

The ombudsman investigated more than double the amount of those complaints about hospital trusts last year, partially or fully upholding over 720 complaints that were not dealt with properly by individual trusts.

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Yorkshire trusts such as Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTH) saw ombudsman enquiries rise from 118 to 129 and the number of upheld complaints double from three to six, while Sheffield Teaching Hospitals (STH) was mentioned in 135 enquiries compared to 101 in 2013-14.

This comes amid increasing demand on hospital trusts nationwide. The number of clinical episodes in Leeds, which relates to hospital admissions and outpatient attendances, rose by over 30,000 to 401,206 between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central and former head of health at trade union Unite, claims Yorkshire’s rocketing annual bill for agency staff, which hit £113million last year, is partly to blame.

“We know services are incredibly stretched and the use of agency staff means you haven’t got the consistent authority and disciplinary systems in place. That comes into place when you haven’t got a flexible workforce,” she said.

“There are clearly areas where there are real shortages of staff in emergency care and general practice and as a result of that you are introducing risk at every single juncture. The answer has to be a stable workforce at a local level.”

Elsewhere in the region Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust saw only a slight increase in enquiries from 67 to 73, but nine complaints were upheld compared to just one the year previous.

The trust, which had an increase in clinical episodes of almost 20,000 in just a year, said it is committed to improving the “quality of services, care and experience”.

Dawn Parkes, deputy chief nurse for practice and development at the trust, said: “The number of complaints we receive is very small compared to the number of people we care for every year.”

LTH’s deputy chief executive Suzanne Hinchliffe OBE explained that despite a “slight increase” in complaint enquiries, the trust “compares favourably with trusts of a similar size”, while STH chief nurse Hilary Chapman said it is never complacent despite its upheld complaints being well below the national average.

Some trusts such as Harrogate and District Hospitals NHS Trust even saw their complaint enquiries decrease despite increasing demand.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor added: “I strongly believe that NHS leaders should welcome feedback from patients and recognise the opportunities that good complaint handling offers to improve the services they provide.

“We are publishing this data to help hospital trusts identify problems and take action to ensure trust in the health care system remains high.”