Scottish NHS complaints reach record levels

Complaints about the standard of treatment and diagnosis in Scotland have reached record levels, new figures have shown. Picture: TSPL
Complaints about the standard of treatment and diagnosis in Scotland have reached record levels, new figures have shown. Picture: TSPL
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Complaints about the standard of NHS treatment and diagnosis in Scotland increased by more than a third last year, figures published yesterday revealed.

A report by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), which focused on concerns about health services, found complaints involving clinical treatment and diagnosis went up 35 per cent in 2012-13.

Some 588 such complaints were received last year from patients across the country, out of a total of 1,237 
received across all areas of health. This was up from 436 the previous year, 402 in 
2010-11 and 412 in 2009-10.

Patients were dissatisfied with a range of issues including incorrect diagnosis, receiving the wrong treatment, poor communication and the way they were treated by staff.

Complaints about staff attitudes, personal dignity and communication between staff and patients and their families increased by 13 per cent – with a total of 105 people complaining to the SPSO.

Ombudsman Jim Martin expressed concern about the high rate of health-related complaints which were upheld after extensive investigations.

Earlier this year, the ombudsman revealed that overall complaints about health issues received by his office increased by 23.5 per cent last year, accounting for 30 per cent of their total workload which also covers sectors such as local government and universities.

Yesterday’s report provided a breakdown of the areas where these health complaints were made, revealing the large rise in those concerning treatment and diagnosis. The ombudsman said: “This may reflect an increased confidence in questioning the judgment of NHS staff rather than a significant change in quality between 2011-12 and 2012-13, but it is a trend we will watch carefully.”

The report also highlighted complaints made about missed or delayed diagnosis, and the consequences they did have or could have had for patients. The report revealed many of the complainers were people with serious or terminal illnesses.

It said that 101 of the complaints they looked at involving family doctors were about the clinical treatment of a patient or their diagnosis, where concerns were raised that an illness was not picked up quickly enough or missed entirely.

These included a woman diagnosed with terminal bone cancer whose practice had failed to properly investigate her symptoms or refer her to hospital quickly enough.

In another case a three-year-old who had seen the GP for a number of weeks due to vomiting was eventually found to have a brain tumour. The report also highlighted ongoing concerns about the care given to older and vulnerable patients.

In one case an elderly man with dementia was left on a hospital trolley for more than 14 hours due to a lack of beds, his wife having to take care of his personal cleanliness herself.

More than half of the complaints received by the ombudsman last year were upheld, a slight fall from 56 per cent the previous year but higher than the 46 per cent rate for complaints received across all sectors.

Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “There is a lot of misdiagnosis out there and the patients seem to know more than their doctors because they are using the internet.”

Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “The fact the ombudsman has recorded this rise is extremely worrying.”

Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, Neil Findlay, said: “Staff are under growing pressure from cuts and increasing patient numbers and these figures show that this cannot be allowed to continue.”

Scottish health secretary Alex Neil said: “We are not complacent about any cases falling below the high standards our patients deserve.”

New guidelines on serious mistakes in NHS

National guidelines have been launched to help the NHS deal with serious mistakes in patient care and become more open in reporting them in Scotland.

The framework, published by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), sets out how NHS boards should handle incidents that could have caused, or did result in, harm.

It follows a scandal where NHS Ayrshire and Arran withheld more than 40 reports about serious incidents involving patients from staff.

Hundreds of reports of serious incidents in the NHS across Scotland were later published, including several where patients had died as a result of errors or accidents.

The guidelines tell doctors and nurses to take a consistent approach to reporting mistakes to cut the risk of harmful events being repeated.

They also outline consistent definitions of what constitutes a so-called “adverse event”.

The most serious of these – a Category 1 event – is defined as events that may have contributed to or resulted in permanent harm, such as death, severe financial loss and “ongoing national adverse publicity”.

HIS said the framework would maximise opportunities for NHS boards to share and learn from each other.

David Farquharson, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “Today’s publication of the adverse events framework signals a new commitment and approach to patient safety within the NHS in Scotland.

“The challenge now will be to embed the practices and principles within every NHS board.”