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Complaints about acute trusts April to September 2016

On this page you can find the latest statistical information about complaints we've handled about every acute trust in England between April and September 2016 (quarters 1 and 2, 2016-17).

The data covers each of the three steps in our process:

  • Step 1: Our initial checks
  • Step 2: Deciding whether to investigate (assessing the complaint)
  • Step 3: Our investigations.

Step 1: Our initial checks

We usually expect people to try to get their problem sorted out with the organisation they are unhappy with before they ask us to look into it. Many of the people who contact us haven't done this, but we can give them information to help them get started. Others have already tried to get their complaint sorted out locally and are not happy with the response they have had; we can look at these complaints in more detail under step two of our process.

In quarter 1 (April to June 2016) we received 2,711 new complaints about NHS acute trusts in England. This represented a decrease of 2.5% on the previous quarter (January to March 2016), when we received 2,780 complaints. It represented a significant increase of 13% on the number of complaints we received over the same period last year (April to June 2015), when we received 2,720 complaints.

In quarter 2 (July to September 2016) we saw an increase in the number of complaints we received about acute trusts compared to the previous quarter and to the same period last year. Over this quarter we received 2,980 new complaints about NHS acute trusts in England, an increase of 10% on the previous quarter and 12% on the same period last year. This is the highest number of new complaints about acute trusts we have seen in any quarter in the data since we started to publish this data, going back to quarter 1 2014-15

There are a number of factors which can influence the number of complaints we initially receive. Increases may be due to increased activity in the NHS as a result of greater demand on the service, and a greater number of complaints made at the local level.

The increase could also be as a result of acute trusts becoming more adept at signposting people to our service, or a general increase in the public’s awareness of our service. 

Typically, we see a relationship between activity levels within trusts and the volume of complaints we receive. Linked to this, it may also be related to the merging of acute trusts with other providers in their area, with some trusts providing more services than previously.

The NHS publishes data on written complaints made to hospital and community health services on a quarterly basis. The most recent data available (for quarter 1 2016-17) shows there were 30,833 new complaints in the quarter, a year on year increase of 17% (26,382). While there are many things to consider when interpreting this data, there appears to be an upward trend in the number of complaints being made to the NHS, suggesting the increase we have seen is linked to an increase in the number of complaints made at the individual trust level, before people come to us.

Step 2: Deciding whether to investigate (assessing the complaint)

The second step of our process is we look in more depth at what has happened and decide whether we could or should investigate. We call this an assessment. There are some cases that we cannot look at: there is normally a limit on the time between when the complainant first became aware of the problem and when they bring it to us. We also need to consider whether legal action is a more appropriate course of action.

We also look at what happened and whether there are signs that the organisation did potentially get things wrong, what effect that may have had, and what the organisation may have done already to put things right. Sometimes we can see that there may have been failings, but the organisation has, in our view, already done what it should to address these and resolve the complaint or could do more before we investigate. In other cases we are able to resolve these cases without a full investigation by working with the organisation complained about.

In quarter 1, following our assessment, we accepted 594 complaints about acute trusts for investigation. This is a decrease on the 685 complaints we accepted for investigation in quarter 4 2015-16.

In quarter 2, we accepted 497 complaints about acute trusts for investigation. This is a decrease on the 594 accepted in quarter 1, despite the higher number of complaints received.

The number of complaints we receive tends to fluctuate throughout the year, and this has an impact on both the number of complaints we assess and the number we investigate. The nature of our work means that not all assessments will be completed in the quarter in which we received the complaint. It may be that we see an increase in the number of complaints accepted for investigation in quarter 3 as a result of the increase in complaints received in quarter 2.

More generally, though, we are seeing an increase in complaints that we close at this second step. This is because we have a more thorough assessment process, meaning we are able to identify more complaints that we can answer straight away without the need for an investigation.

Step 3: Our investigations

When we complete an investigation, we can fully uphold, partly uphold or not uphold the complaint. If we fully or partly uphold the complaint, we can make recommendations to the organisation to put things right. This could mean asking the organisation to acknowledge its mistakes and apologise or take other action to address what has happened. We can also ask organisations to take action to prevent the same mistakes happening to someone else and to make services better for everyone.

In quarter 1, we upheld (fully or partly) 205 of the complaints about acute trusts that we investigated. We didn't uphold 299 complaints. A small number of complaints (35) were discontinued or resolved before the investigation had finished. In quarter 1 we upheld 38% of complaints we investigated about acute trusts. This is a drop on the previous quarter where we upheld 47% of our investigations.

In quarter 2, we upheld (fully or partly) 247 of the complaints about acute trusts that we investigated. We didn’t uphold 284 complaints. A small number of complaints (51) were discontinued or resolved before the investigation had finished. In quarter 2 we upheld 42% of complaints we investigated about acute trusts. This represents a 4 percentage point increase on the previous quarter, and is more in line with the historical trend.

The table below shows how many complaints we handled about acute trusts in total, for each stage of our process. The file at the end of this page gives the data for each acute trust.

  Q2   2016-17

Q1 2016-17

 

Q4 2015-16

Q3   2015-16 Q2   2015-16 Q1   2015-16

Total complaints about acute trusts    

2980 2711 2780 2629 2672 2401

Total accepted for investigation

497 594 685 469    
Total fully or partly upheld 247 205 285 223 217 176
Total  not upheld 284 299 275 211 226 181
 

Total discontinued or closed without a finding       

 

51 35 51 35 36 36
Uphold rate   42% 38% 47% 48% 45% 45%

Data considerations

Use

We share this data to encourage discussions about why some organisations appear to have a significantly higher (or lower) number of complaints investigated by us and to help trusts assess the efficiency of their own complaint handling. However, taken in isolation, our data is not necessarily a measure of the quality or performance of individual trusts. There is variation in the size of acute trusts and also in the kind of services they provide. These factors can all affect the number of complaints we receive about trusts.

Accuracy

The data we share is accurate at the time of publication. However, a small number of the decisions we make on complaints can be subject to a review if new information comes to light, and this can lead to changes in the number of complaints we accept for investigation and the number of investigated complaints we uphold. Any changes would affect only a small number of complaints.
Acute trusts are also subject to change. Occasionally trusts will merge and close or new trusts will be created. This means that direct quarterly comparisons are not always possible. While we will always attempt to provide the most up-to-date breakdown of complaints for acute trusts across the country, on occasion, it is possible that an administrative change in the operation of a trust is not reflected in our quarterly data. We undertake a full audit of the complaints we have received about acute trusts at the end of every year. Any changes in trust administration not picked up in our quarterly data will be addressed at this point.

How we record complaints involving more than one trust

A number of complaints we received related to more than one acute trust. In these cases, we have counted the complaint more than once. For instance, if a complaint, relates to three separate trusts, we would have counted this three times – once for each of the trusts involved.