Headlines: February 8th, 2008

Aunified system for dealing with complaints about health and social care services is to be tried out in a number of areas before being rolled out nationally in April next year. It will replace the present separate complaints procedures and put the focus on problems being dealt with locally.

The present system is believed to be particularly difficult for people who use a combination of services to make a complaint and for the bodies running the services to respond. The new process will introduce a two-stage system underwhich complaints that cannot be resolved locally will be investigated by the Health or Local Government Ombudsman.

The Health Minister, Ann Keen, said that as well as simplifying the experience of making a complaint so it was more responsive to people’s needs, this would also emphasise that health and social care services should routinely learn from complaints, feeding the lessons into service improvement. “It makes sense for everyone to use a more locally based system for complaints, one the public feel they can trust. It is in the interests of health and social care providers to be more accountable to their local communities,” she said.

The new system will be tried out by so-called ‘early adopter sites’with plans to have at least one of these in every Strategic Health Authority area. The development follows a four-month consultation on proposals for reform. The changes are designed to resolve complaints locally, give people making complaints access to support and allow people to go directly to theirl ocal authority with a complaint in cases where care has been arranged through the authority. People with complaints about their GP will also get the chance to go to their Primary Care Trust with a complaint rather than having to complain to the doctor.

Puttingthe emphasis on effective and robust resolution and with independence of the Ombudsmen, there will no longer be a need for the independent review of NHS complaints, which is currently carried out by the Healthcare Commission. There forms have been welcomed by the Ombudsmen who believe the system will be more responsive for the complainant and will help to improve services.