A report has warned that hospital patients are left so confused by the NHS complaint procedures that many do not bother to speak out at all.
Thousands are put off from lodging complaints due to baffling systems and worries that filing a complaint could lead to reprisals against a loved one, according to watchdogs.
A review by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlighted that poor complaint handling, and patients not being taken seriously following complaints are key areas of concerns in hospitals.
Th CQC said complainants were met ‘too often’ with a defensive culture rather than one that listens, understands and is willing to learn.
The watchdog is also worried about ‘very few’ complaints over adult social care and primary care, which could indicate the lack of an open culture in which concerns are welcomed.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said: ‘A service that is safe, responsive and well-led will treat every concern as an opportunity to improve, will encourage its staff to raise concerns without fear of reprisal, and will respond to complaints openly and honestly.
‘Unfortunately this is not happening everywhere. While most providers have complaints systems in place, people’s experiences of these are not consistently good.
‘We know from the thousands of people who contact the CQC every year that many people do not even get as far as making a complaint as they are put off by the confusing system or worried about the impact that complaining might have on their or their loved one’s care.
‘More needs to be done to encourage an open culture where concerns are welcomed and learned from.’
The CQC received more than 18,000 complaints regarding poor care last year – this amounts to 50 a day – while written complaints about the NHS to the Health and Social Care Information Centre landed far above and beyond, with a total of 75,000. Healthwatch England recently estimated that 250,000 incidents went unreported last year because people felt unable to complain for various reasons.