Hospitals are risking a new Mid Staffordshire scandal by not learning from their mistakes, says report
Hospitals are risking a repeat of the Mid Staffordshire trust scandal by failing to scrutinise mistakes and neglect by staff to improve the quality of care, a report warns.
Weaknesses in the NHS’s complaints system means that poor care risks are not being spotted and stopped, according to research by the Patients Association. “Significant pockets of the NHS have not led the kind of changes needed to prevent another scandal occurring,” warns the report, Listening and Learning. “This report provides a sombre reminder that the lessons of previous reports have still not been learned.”
It accuses some hospitals of dangerous complacency for not having implemented a series of recommendations and official advice aimed at improving the health service’s much-criticised way of handling complaints.
Research by the patient group shows that many staff do not receive enough training in how to deal with complaints, and that hospitals do too little to help patients raise concerns and do not see complaints as opportunities to improve.
It comes as the NHS braces itself for the publication on 6 February of a devastating report of the public inquiry into appalling care at Stafford hospital, which contributed to the death of an estimated 400-1,200 patients between 2005 and 2009. The report, by Robert Francis QC, is expected to highlight the hospital’s failure to properly respond to and investigate complaints as symptomatic of a wider problem requiring remedial action.
“The Patients Association has identified key challenges for the NHS as the ongoing flaws in the current system are revealed,” said Katherine Murphy, the Patients Association’s chief executive. “We raise these examples not to criticise without solution but to highlight the very real need for robust measures to ensure that any changes proposed by the Francis inquiry are implemented in the years to come.”
The NHS constitution gives every patient the right to complain about the way they have been cared for and says that complaints should be dealt with effectively. But the association has found that many hospitals have not implemented all recommendations on handling complaints from the first Stafford inquiry in 2010 or advice from official bodies such as the Care Quality Commission NHS watchdog and the NHS ombudsman.
It looked at how good 20 hospitals that have signed up to its campaign to improve the basics of care, such as nutrition and pain relief, were at making information about their complaints policies easily accessible and how comprehensive they were.
It found that only half had a policy for managing complaints and had put it on their website. Four had a policy but had not put it on their website, while six appeared to have no policy or did not make information about it easily available. Three carried information that the association judged either unclear or incomplete.
While 13 hospital trusts (65%) had done enough to train staff how to handle complaints the other seven either had not or had no details available on having done so.
While 15 trusts were good at learning from complaints, the other five were “insufficiently developed”.
“A complaints system enables organisations to learn from their mistakes. This should be the case with complaints throughout the NHS. And NHS organisations must overcome the mentality that patient complaints nurture a culture of blame”, said Murphy.
“Things are changing much slower than expected. Learning from complaints is still more of an aspiration than reality”, she added. Complaints about poor NHS care are rising. They need to be taken much more seriously by many hospitals to stop the same problems recurring constantly, said Murphy.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “deeply concerned” to see fresh evidence of flaws in NHS procedures for dealing with questions raised by patients and promised an overhaul.