Health chiefs in Lancashire saw the number of complaints they receive jump last year, new figures reveal.
Communications and patient care were the top concerns as the county saw the biggest increase in written complaints across England – almost 15 per cent.
Trusts across Lancashire received almost 5,300 complaints, statistics by NHS Digital revealed, with a total of 208,400 written complaints made nationally, up 4.9 per cent on the previous year and an average of 480 per day.
Lancashire Care, responsible for mental health care and community nursing across the county, had the most, which it said was because it had made it easier for patients to voice their discontent.
It saw complaints rise by a third to 1,397.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Royal Preston and Chorley Hospitals, received 567 complaints last year - up from 551 - while Greater Preston CCG saw complaints more than double from 11 to 24.
Increasingly staff are working harder and harder with less resources and fewer colleagues to assist them. However, the timing of this news couldn’t be more worrying.
Karen Partington (pictured), chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, which runs Preston and Chorley hospitals, said: “Last year we received 3.5 per cent more complaints than the previous year, which equates to around one complaint for every 1329 patient episodes.
“In the same period we received 7,905 compliment letters and thank you cards, which is 13 times the number of complaints made.
“We review every single complaint and compliment and are committed to learning from mistakes, taking quick action to put things right, continuously improving, and sharing good practice. We have recently reviewed how we handle complaints, and are now providing more training and support for clinical staff who investigate complaints, as well as focusing on resolving issues promptly as they arise on wards and in clinics.”
The figures, released on a huge spreadsheet by NHS Digital, go into extensive detail. Boiled down, they show that Lancashire had 4,514 written complaints in 2014/15, 4,621 in 2015/16, and 5,297 last year.
The county’s trusts heard fewer grumbles than any other area – London had the most with 37,192 – but the increase of 14.6 per cent last year compared to the year before was the highest. There was a 14.3 per cent rise in complaints about ‘hospitals and community health services’ (2,570 in ‘15/16 to 2,938 last year), and a 15 per cent rise in complaints about GPs and dentists (2,051 in ‘15/16 to 2,359 last year).
Most complaints in Lancashire related to communication rather than treatment, with patient care, including nutrition and hydration, the second most common criticism.
Fleetwood and Lancaster’s Labour MP Cat Smith said the figures were not a reflection on ‘hardworking NHS staff’ and pointed the finger of blame at the government. She said: “Increasingly staff are working harder and harder with less resources and fewer colleagues to assist them. However, the timing of this news couldn’t be more worrying. The Conservatives’ under-funding of the NHS has caused chaos for patients and even in the height of summer, key targets are being missed and waiting list numbers are rising.
“There is a real danger to patients unless the government takes urgent action to support the NHS through the extra winter pressures.”
What do they say...
The pressures put on the health service in recent years has been well publicised, with more people now using the NHS than ever before.
Those who complain make up a tiny proportion of the patients seen. There were 208,400 written complaints last year, while one million patients were seen every 36 hours.
Lancashire Care received an extra 351 complaints last year.
It was the biggest rise in the county. In a statement, the trust said it had made its complaint process simpler by working to ‘improve our approach to hearing feedback’.
“A part of this work has served to make it easier to complain,” it said.
“We have also been working proactively to get the feedback of hard-to-reach patient groups such as those in secure services and prisons, and are using the feedback that they have provided to make changes for improvement of care and services.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said long-term under-investment has left patients frustrated.
She said: “The family doctor service has experienced almost a decade of under-investment and as a result, GPs and our teams are buckling under the pressures of a huge increase in patient numbers but a shortage of doctors.”