Francis QC laments lack of transparency on patient complaints

Sir Robert Francis QC has said that public confidence in the health service is being undermined by a lack of transparency from hospitals about patient complaints.

Francis, who chaired the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal, has called for a new national organisation with powers to set standards on the handling of patient complaints after research found seven in eight hospital trusts do not follow existing rules.

Under current legislation every hospital is required to collect and report on the number of complaints they receive, what they were about and what action has been taken. However, Healthwatch England found that just 12 per cent of NHS trusts were compliant with all the rules. Only 16 per cent published the required complaints reports while just 38 per cent reported any details about learning or actions taken after a grievance.

Speaking to The Independent to mark the 10th anniversary of his first report into poor care at Stafford Hospital, Francis said that this lack of transparency on what trusts were doing meant it was impossible to judge how well complainants were being treated. Too often complaints were treated in an adversarial fashion with patients treated as ‘warring parties’.

However, he claims that better reporting would create a ‘collaborative’ environment to improve the system with patients and staff alike seeing complaints as a valuable resource.

Healthwatch England, which Francis chairs, said the government should toughen rules on transparency and create a new standards authority, potentially added to the responsibilities of the existing Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, to set standards, promote good practice and monitor compliance.

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