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Breaking down the barriers: Older people and complaints about health care

Executive summary

People are more likely to need to use health care services as they enter later life. Yet when it comes to complaining about poor care, evidence we have gathered for this report shows that older people are often reluctant to speak up or simply don't know how to.

Making it easier for older people to have a voice when public services fail them is essential - not just so that individual wrongs can be put right, but so that services can learn from past experiences and improve.

Through a combination of personal testimonies from focus groups with older people, information from a national survey we conducted, and evidence from our own casework, our report highlights the significant barriers that older people can face when looking to complain about their care.

We found that older people:

  • Lack information about how to complain, and don't know where to go;
  • Don't want to make a fuss and worry about what will happen if they do;
  • Feel complaining would make little difference; and
  • Can lack support to complain.

These are barriers which we know can prevent anyone from making a complaint, regardless of their age. However, for older people, additional factors, such as living alone and the lack of on-hand emotional and practical support, can make these barriers even harder to overcome.

Change needs to happen. Our report makes a number of recommendations to improve older people's experience of the complaints system. We want all NHS providers to make older people aware of how to complain, point them to the support that is available to them, and make it clear that their future care will not be compromised if they complain. We also recommend that organisations that provide care use our framework for showing what good complaint handling is, My expectations, to measure how effectively they are handling their own complaints.