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New report sheds light on top hospital complaints investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

A report published today has revealed that, similar to last year, the top three reasons for hospital complaints investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in the last financial year (2014-15) were poor communication, errors in diagnosis and poor treatment.

Non-medical aspects of patient care are cited as a factor in almost half of all complaints investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Poor communication, including quality and accuracy of information, was a factor in one third of all complaints.

Other reasons for complaints in this period included staff attitude and behaviour, which were factors in two out of 10 complaints.

The report outlines how many unresolved complaints the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigated for every acute trust in England and the final decision made.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

We know that there are many factors that influence the number of complaints hospitals receive, such as organisational size, demographics and whether they actively encourage feedback from patients.

'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 healthcare system remains high.'

The report compares the number of complaints the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates to the size of each trust. The size of the trust is determined by the number of 'clinical incidents' such as outpatient appointments, elective surgery and emergency admissions the trust has carried out. This shows how likely a trust is to receive a complaint about its service.

The report reveals that the number of enquiries the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has received and investigated about acute trusts, increased in 2014-15, compared to 2013-14:

  • In 2014-15, it received 21,371 enquiries about the NHS, compared to 18,870 in 2013-14.
  • Of these enquiries, 8,853 were about acute trusts in 2014-15, compared to 8,178 in 2013-14.
  • It completed 1,652 investigations about acute trusts in 2014-15, compared to 852 in 2013-14. This rise can largely be explained by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in 2013 changing the way it handles complaints to undertake more investigations, resulting in it now completing ten times as many investigations in 2014-15 than in 2012-13. It completed 384 investigations in 2012-13 and 4,159 investigations in 2014-15.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on complaints which haven’t been resolved locally by the NHS in England. In 2014-15 it upheld 36% of the cases it investigated about the NHS and 44% about acute trusts.


Notes to editors

  1. The uphold figures refer to a combination of both cases fully upheld and partly upheld. The uphold rate for acute trusts in 2013-14 was 46%.
  2. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on complaints which haven’t been resolved locally by the NHS in England or by UK government departments and their agencies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the DVLA, the Passport Office and the Highways Agency.
  3. There are many factors that influence the number of complaints hospitals receive, such as encouraging feedback from patients. This report should not be treated as an attempt to rank the performance of trusts across England as organisational size, hospital specialities and demographics all have an impact on the number of complaints different organisations may receive.
  4. Each trust will have its own reasons for its complaint data. So if for example a trust has a high number of complaints and not many get referred to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, it could mean that the trust resolves complaints well at a local level. Or it could be because trusts are not signposting patients to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman when they are not satisfied with the way their complaint has been handled by the NHS.
  5. All patients have the right to take their unresolved complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if they are not satisfied with the way the complaint has been dealt with by the NHS.
  6. For more information please contact press officer Marina Soteriou on 0300 061 4996 or email marina.soteriou@ombudsman.org.uk, press officer Steven Mather on 0300 061 4324 or email steven.mather@ombudsman.org.uk or press and media manager Maria Mansfeld on 0300 061 4267 or email maria.mansfeld@ombudsman.org.uk
  7. For out-of-hours media enquiries, please contact the duty press officer on 07825 781 289.
  8. If someone is unhappy about the service they have received from the NHS in England they should first make their complaint to the organisation in question and give them the chance to respond. If they’re not happy with how their complaint is dealt with, they can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman here.