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We must listen to NHS staff and patients to improve the NHS

The National Health Action Party  has long been calling for a strengthening of support for whistle-blowers,  but a complete reform of the NHS Complaints process is essential and urgent, says the NHA co-leader,  Dr Richard Taylor who is calling for a People's Champion for Health.

The former MP for Wyre Forest and ex-member of the Health Select Committee says the current system is toothless and not helpful for patients or their relatives and criticises the government for failing to come up with an adequate means for patients to be heard after Community Health Councils and then Patient Forums were abolished by previous governments. (full quote below)

Listening to patients and staff to improve the NHS (an extract from the NHA Party Policy Document - http://nhaparty.org/our-policies/health/#Listening to patients)

Patients and public must have a real say in how local services are developed and delivered by strengthening the powers of patient representative organisations at local and regional level.

A complete reform of the NHS Complaints process is essential and urgent. The current system is toothless and not helpful for patients or their relatives.

The government has failed to come up with an adequate means for patients to be heard after Community Health Councils and then Patient Forums were abolished by previous governments. They had the ability to offer a resolution and then escalate the complaint to local NHS authorities or the Health Secretary if appropriate. There has been no adequate replacement for this vital service. Health Watch appears to be toothless in this respect.

Patients need expert, independent help to make effective complaints and this independent help must be easily and generally available early in the process and long before legal action is considered. Legal action must always be the last resort.

Even more important is the need to avoid complaints. This can be achieved by improving communication between NHS staff and their patients. With open, comprehensible information-sharing and discussion many complaints can be avoided before they develop.

We call for

  • The introduction of local independent health commissioners, accessible to patients, relatives and staff, in all major towns working under a new and specific Health Service Ombudsman, based on the New Zealand system. The Independent Health and Disability Commissioner of New Zealand, with offices in all major towns, is a good model of an independent, accessible official to whom patients, relatives and staff can raise complaints and concerns with preservation of anonymity if desired. The Commissioner has the knowledge and ability to cope with these or to pass them on to the highest authority when appropriate.
  • the NHS Complaints Process to be patient-friendly and be used as a means to improve the NHS.
  • a reduction in the NHS and Department of Health dependence on management consultants and increase the influence of healthcare professional bodies, health staff and patient groups, and the restoration of responsibility for health planning to public health and clinical leaders.

There are further urgent concerns about staff who wish to raise issues of poor practice (whistle blowing).

We support

  • Strengthening of the whistle blowing system that allows staff to identify and report their concerns about quality of care and patient safety without fear of recrimination.

Comment from Dr Richard Taylor:

"Impartial, independent opinion is not available until the complaint is passed to the Ombudsman. Even as a medically qualified MP, assisting constituents with complaints, I failed to achieve satisfaction on occasions, as the only ‘independent’ experts employed appeared to be on the side of the NHS and not really independent. They were defensive and expert at rubbishing the complaint or justifying the action, or lack of action taken, that led to the complaint.

"Patients need expert, independent help themselves to make effective complaints and this independent help must be easily and generally available early in the process and long before legal action is considered. Legal action must always be the last resort.

"The Independent Health and Disability Commissioner of New Zealand, with offices in all major towns, is an example of an independent, accessible official to whom patients, relatives and staff can raise complaints and concerns with preservation of anonymity if desired. The Commissioner has the knowledge and ability to cope with these or to pass them on to the highest authority when appropriate.

"Before Community Health Councils were abolished they had the ability to listen to complaints and then direct access to local NHS authorities or even the Health Secretary if necessary. There has been no adequate replacement for this vital service. Health Watch appears to be toothless in this respect.

"An appropriate reform of the Complaints Process could fill this gap by instituting such local, independent health service experts working under the new Health Service Ombudsman. We need a People's Champion for Health.

"But even more important is the need to avoid complaints. This can be achieved by improving communication between NHS staff and their patients. With open, comprehensible information-sharing and discussion many complaints can be avoided before they develop. As always full, open communication between patients and staff is vital."

 

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