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why do patients complain about their care

Thereвs a fact thatвs common knowledge among those of us who work in the. We pretend it doesnвt exist, deny it to each other even, and would certainly never admit it to patients. The dirty little secret is simple; if you are a patient who makes a complaint, or causes a fuss on the ward, youвll probably receive better care from those employed to look after you. Everyone would surely agree that this isnвt fair. Unfortunately it seems that as soon as a patient complains, or utters even a word of discontent, there is immediate commotion; a state of complete panic setting in among the ward staff. Suddenly consultants who havenвt been seen outside of their offices for months appear on the ward, stern faced and on the hunt for someone to blame. How dare one of their patients have cause for complaint. And who is the junior doctor responsible for this? There are probably many reasons for this в no doubt the fear of potential media coverage being one в but even the smallest quibbles have to be dealt with with the utmost care and attention. If youвve ever had to write a formal response to a complaint, even if it is completely unsubstantiated, you will understand just how much effort this involves. A potential story appearing in the media is even more of a daunting prospect. The need to comply with patient confidentiality often leaves trusts unable to comment on stories reported by the press, their silence consequently seen as an admission of guilt.


The complaints procedure is entirely necessary; it prevents negligence and promotes transparency of care, and patients should always retain the right to make a complaint, and to highlight situations where something has gone wrong. Some patients have become wise to this however. They can be obnoxious, attention seeking, or downright unpleasant, but we grit our teeth, and resist the urge to tell them so. Regardless of the veracity of their complaint though, they will receive more attentive and more efficient treatment. This is an age of patient-led care, and for all the benefits that this has provided, many patients have become empowered to make demands that are far beyond what the NHS can provide. Spare a thought for the little old lady in the corner, the one who waits quietly by her bed, not wanting to cause a fuss. She doesnвt deserve to be overlooked in favour of the loud and demanding patient who threatens to contact the Daily Mail at every opportunity. Often through little fault of their own, NHS staff are stalled by unavoidable hurdles, such as staffing levels, or lack of resources. Working under these extreme pressures inevitably means that we sometimes cannot always provide the instant answers and results that some expect from their healthcare system.


With every other newspaper article bringing news of the latest failure of the health service, itвs easy to jump on the bandwagon and blame every discontent on the NHS. Patients shouldnвt have to resort to making a fuss and criticising to receive appropriate care, but equally doctors and nursesв fear of repercussions should not result in preferential treatment over others. If you would like to write a blogpost for, read our
and get in touch by emailing. to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter ( ) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views. The NHS's quality of care is under fresh scrutiny after a survey of patients found one in five had experienced problems such as rude staff, a lack of compassion and long waits for treatment. The findings from, an online service enabling people to comment on their care, come a week after the health service ombudsman severely criticised the poor NHS treatment of older patients. Patient Opinion, which is partly funded by hospitals and the NHS Choices website, found that 2,537 of the 11,982 comments it received between 2005 and 2010 were negative. It analysed the 537 most critical responses to reveal the details of the worst failings of care. Staff were rude, arrogant or lazy or had a negative attitude. A lack of care and compassion, such as staff not doing enough to ensure the patient was comfortable.


Staff not keeping patients well informed. Inadequate response to requests or complaints. Long waits before or between appointments, including delays in being moved between different departments. These cases also saw patients complaining about problems with the environment in which they were treated, such as poor food or night time noise, poor health outcomes, cleanliness, staffing levels and dignity. However, there were 3,971 positive comments and 5,474 mixed comments from patients during 2005-10. The claims of seriously inadequate care included the case of a women who had an emergency caesarean section at St Thomas' hospital in central London last year. She said: "My experience of post-natal care was so bad [that] I have had to undergo counselling and I am reluctant to try for another baby. It took me 10 months to bond with my daughter. " Staff were "rude and uncaring", her pleas for pain relief went unheard and no one replied when she rang her bell, she said. "I am crying just thinking about how awful I found the midwives who treated me during my stay," the woman, a lawyer, told Patient Opinion. "It was the worst experience of my life and it devastates me that the rude and uncaring staff I met have left me resentful towards my daughter and reluctant to set foot in an NHS maternity ward ever again. " Lynne Pacanowski, the hospital's director of midwifery and head of gynaecology nursing, posted a response on the wesbite in which she sought to assure the woman that progress was being made to tackle the issues she had raised.


Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said NHS organisations needed to learn from the survey and from other feedback. "Organisational culture and the attitudes of staff are absolutely vital parts of delivering better care," she said. "Improving standards has to start with staff because regulation and spot checks cannot stop all instances of poor care. " Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: "This survey demonstrates exactly why we need to update our NHS. Our plans will ensure patient experience is captured and then used to inform patient choice and drive improvements throughout the service". The planned new HealthWatch consumer health champion would give patients across England a strong voice, he said. Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of National Voices, a coalition of patient charities, said: "Patient Opinion is part of a growing movement in which people are exerting a stronger voice in health care. When NHS staff also really engage with patient feedback and act on it, the result is higher quality care, greater satisfaction with services and better value for money. "

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