Headlines: November 27th, 2002

The Health Service Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, has drawn attention to the need for independent clinical advice to be available to those managing the NHS complaints procedure.Reporting on 39 cases she investigated in the three months from April to July this year she also highlighted the issue of the medical care of people with a mental illness. She said complaints about the care of mentally ill people formed an increasing proportion of the cases looked into by her office. She intends to raise the subject with the Department of Health and the National Patient Safety Agency.

Cases involving recurring problems, such as failures in communication, poor clinical record- keeping, shortcomings in the support and supervision of junior staff and failures in essential nursing care were also included in the report. It highlights cases in the South West of England, London, the South-East and Eastern regions and in north and west Yorkshire.

One case, involving South Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, the Ombudsman said, related to a large range of common complaints, she said. The family of a patient admitted after a fall, who subsequently died after surgery, complained that there had been a delay in referring the man to a chest physician; that there was confusion over which consultant was responsible for his care; and that communication between nurses and medical staff was poor. The Ombudsman’s investigation found that not only the man’s family but also the nursing staff were unsure of whether the over-all responsibility for his care lay with the surgical or medical team. The complaint was upheld in full, and the Trust apologised and agreed to implement recommendations to improve record keeping and communication, and to set up protocols for responsibilities