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GPs removing patients from lists “without warning”

More patients complaining to Ombudsman that their GP struck them off

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Health Service Ombudsman is receiving an increasing number of complaints from patients whose GPs have struck them off their list, sometimes without warning.

The Health Service Ombudsman’s report Listening and Learning: the Ombudsman’s review of complaint handling by the NHS in England 2010-11 reveals that, last year, 21 per cent of all complaints about GPs investigated by the Ombudsman were about patient removals - a rise of 6 per cent on the previous year.

Cases included a terminally ill woman removed following a dispute between the practice and her daughter and a woman removed after a ‘simple disagreement’ about unanswered telephone calls.

As GPs prepare to take on greater responsibility for commissioning patient services, the Health Service Ombudsman is concerned about the implications of this when some GPs are failing to handle even the most basic complaints appropriately.

Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham said: ‘There is a growing recognition that patient feedback is a valuable resource for the NHS at a time of uncertainty and change. It is a resource that is directly and swiftly available, covering all aspects of service, care and treatment. But when feedback is ignored and becomes a complaint, it risks changing from being an asset to a cost.’

She said across the NHS the most straightforward and basic complaints were still not being dealt with adequately which meant that too many minor disputes were escalated to her office.

The Ombudsman’s Office received over 15,000 complaints about the NHS in 2010-11. London and the North West were the two regions that generated the most complaints. Approximately 46 per cent of complaints were about hospital, specialist and teaching trusts (acute), and complaints about primary care trusts and GPs accounted for 18 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively.

The two most common reasons people gave for being dissatisfied with how the NHS had handled their complaint were poor explanations and no acknowledgement of mistakes.

Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said nearly two thirds of complaints sent back to local organisations, because they had not completed the NHS complaints procedure.

“This suggests that we are missing opportunities to resolve things at an early stage. It also suggests that a lot of effort could be saved if we did more to communicate how people can raise their concerns,” she said.

“It is striking that often what people most want is an apology or an explanation of what went wrong.  We all know that things can go wrong in healthcare but where that happens people are entitled to be dealt with in a straightforward and respectful fashion.”

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