Gransnet survey results are deeply concerning

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, talks about the importance of older people feeling able to complain about poor care or treatment in hospital.

Reading the results of our survey of Gransnet members on the care and treatment of older people in hospital, it is deeply concerning that over half of the families of older people who complained found it difficult, and two thirds of those who had concerns felt their complaint would not make a difference.

Despite being under immense pressure, the NHS provides an excellent service day in, day out. However, we know there is huge variation with how the NHS deals with complaints, and it is not acceptable for patients and their families to suffer in silence.

Older people don't have the support to complain

Our casework shows that poor complaint handling means that patients are left waiting for answers. This causes additional distress at an already difficult time, and much-needed service improvements are delayed.

In our 2015 report, Breaking down the barriers, we found that older people often lack information about how to complain and don't know where to go.They are reluctant to make a fuss, and worry about what will happen if they do.

Furthermore, many of our older complainants don’t always have the support to complain, especially if they live alone. This is particularly worrying given that only 7% of the 30,000 complaints we received in 2016-17 were from people over 75, even though this age group are heavy users of the NHS.

This highlights the importance of NHS staff making older patients aware of how to complain, pointing them to available support, and making it absolutely clear that their future care will not be compromised. Our Carrying out good local investigations page on our website provides further guidance on this.

Speaking up helps to improve services

I want everyone to feel that complaining is straightforward, fair and makes a difference. For NHS providers this means being open to feedback and promoting the local complaints process to patients, as well as the changes and improvements which have been made following previous complaints.

This will help encourage others to come forward. If the patient is not satisfied with the final response to their complaint, they should be referred to us. Where we uphold complaints, public services must improve and put things right.

Ultimately, members of the public speaking up when things go wrong will help to improve the service in the long-run and will prevent the same mistakes happening to someone else. The My expectations guide on our website provides more information about how to hold local complaints services to account.