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Health and social care services still failing to learn from complaints

No systematic approach to capturing feedback and using it to improve services, says public spending watchdog

OnMedica Staff

Friday, 10 October 2008

There is little evidence that health and social care services take on board the feedback they receive from complaints, says the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO), in a report published today.

In 2006-7, 133,600 complaints were made about NHS services and a further 17,100 about social care services, and a survey of adults in England found that around one in seven people have been dissatisfied with their experience of services in the past three years. 

But only a fraction of those who were dissatisfied with the NHS and fewer than one in three who were dissatisfied with social care went on to make a formal complaint.

Two thirds of complainants were not offered any help to navigate the system. Awareness of the Patients Advice Liaison Service (PALS) is poor, while adult social services complainants have to rely on local authorities to help.

There is no systematic approach to learn from complaints to improve services, it adds, as neither the NHS nor social care services have any formal means of capturing this information. 

And there is scant evidence that recommendations arising from complaints are put into practice.

The handling of some complaints takes too long.  Most complaints do not progress further than the local organisation and 75% of these are dealt with within 20-25 working days. 

But NHS complaints that progress to the second, independent review stage by the Healthcare Commission took an average of 171 working days and social care complaints reaching this stage took an average of 63 working days.

In a bid to improve the process, the Department of Health announced last year that it would introduce a single comprehensive complaints system across health and social care in England by 2009.

But until now, no detailed evaluation of the effectiveness of the existing systems has been carried out, the watchdog points out. And the government has some way to go if this vision is to be realized, it says.

Commenting on the findings, Tim Burr, head of the NAO, said: “There is a lack of learning from complaints, and providers are not making clear to users that services are being improved as result.” 

“Adequate staff training; proper tackling of complaints; and evidence of improvements in response to complaints are key pointers for the planned introduction of a new comprehensive complaints system across health and social care next year,” he continued.

Feeding Back? Learning from complaints handling in Health and Social Care.  www.nao.org.uk




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