'Toxic cocktail' in NHS care, says health watchdog

Hospital ward
Image caption The ombudsman called for changes to the way complaints about the NHS are dealt with

Patients who suffer from poor care in hospitals are being failed by a "toxic cocktail" inside the NHS, the health service watchdog for England has said.

NHS Ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor told the Daily Telegraph that people often did not complain because they feared even worse treatment.

Those who did experienced "a culture of defensiveness" from staff, she added.

Dame Julie called for concerns to be acted on quicker and action to be taken before care was jeopardised.

Simple apology

She said she wanted to see changes including a free 24-hour patients' advice service and for each patient to be given the name of a senior person - usually the ward sister - as a point of first contact.

These steps have been submitted to an independent review of hospital complaints by Labour MP Ann Clwyd.

She protested about the care her late husband received when he was in hospital last year.

Her report is expected to be published next month.

Dame Julie said that often those who suffered harm were denied a simple apology.

"What we found was that there is a toxic cocktail - patients felt reluctant to complain, because they can fear it will affect the care they get, and that if they do they are met with a culture of defensiveness where they don't get the explanations they need, and the opportunity is lost to learn really powerful insights which could improve the NHS," she said.

Final place

Research has suggested that more than half of those who consider complaining about the NHS do not do so, with many put off because they expect the process to be bureaucratic and others believe it will make no difference.

The parliamentary and health service ombudsman is the final place to go to for patients who are unhappy with a hospital's original handling of a complaint.

In 2012-13, it received 16,000 complaints about the NHS in England.

Last month, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said 11 hospitals investigated for high death rates were being placed in "special measures".

As part of this process, teams of external experts are sent into health trusts to work with senior management teams.

Another three hospitals were told to make improvements following the review.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We know that there are issues with how hospitals handle complaints and that's why we asked Ann Clwyd and Tricia Hart to carry out a review into the system.

"We look forward to their recommendations."

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