Patients let down by ‘appalling’ inquiries into care

Patients who complain about care are being let down by “appalling” NHS investigations, a highly-critical review warns today.

More than a third of inquiries into deaths or avoidable harm at hospitals were found to be “inadequate”, checks by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found.

Families complained they felt “belittled” and “misled” by medical staff who failed to listen to their concerns or give them straight answers.

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In one case, a one-day-old baby was left with permanent brain damage because two doctors and a nurse made serious mistakes” during blood transfusions.

But the hospital’s investigation was “fundamentally flawed and did not identify glaring errors in the conduct and recording of the transfusion and ignored obvious explanations for what happened”, the ombudsman found.

Katherine Rake, chief executive of the patients group Healthwatch England, said: “Our research shows that tens of thousands of people every year are being failed by the NHS and yet never report it because they have no faith the complaints system will make any difference. What we need is a complete overhaul of the complaints system that ensures every incident is properly investigated and learnt from, and that those affected are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

The investigation found 28 of the 150 cases examined should have been investigated by the NHS as a Serious Untoward Incident but in the vast majority they were not.

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Hospitals ombudsman Julie Mellor said there is “significant variation” in the quality of NHS investigations.

She said: “Investigations weren’t carried out when they should have been and when they were carried out they did not find out or explain why failings happened. When people make a complaint that they have been seriously harmed they should expect it to be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”