Complaints about avoidable deaths and delayed cancer diagnosis not being dealt with properly by the NHS, Ombudsman report reveals

People who complain to the NHS are often denied the answers they so desperately need, leaving them no choice but to bring their complaints to the Ombudsman’s service.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report published today contains 100 cases it has resolved. They include complaints about avoidable deaths, GP out-of-hours care, delayed cancer diagnosis, poor hospital discharge and incorrect medicine dosage being given to patients.

In all 100 cases, people complained to the organisation locally first. But there was a failure to resolve the complaints locally, meaning that they had to seek the help of the Ombudsman service to get the answers they so desperately needed.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

Too many complaints are coming to us which could have been resolved more quickly by the NHS.

'When people pluck up the courage to complain they are all too often met with defensive and inadequate responses.

'Complaints need to be dealt with properly, so that people are given answers and to help prevent any failures from happening again.'

Today’s report includes cases about:

  • A family who were not given answers from a hospital after their 26-year-old daughter’s avoidable death. She was wrongly diagnosed with a hangover when in fact she had a life-threatening complication of diabetes. (North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, Summary 1179, page 114).
  • A woman who was wrongly denied funding for breast reconstruction after cancer treatment. She had to pay to have the treatment privately but after she complained to the Ombudsman service she got the money back. (North Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Summary 1153, page 81).
  • A man in his late 70s who had to bring his case to the Ombudsman service to get an apology from a hospital, after a nine-month-delay in his late wife being told she had advanced cancer. (Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, Case 1161, page 93).
  • A man who lost the sight in one eye after being given the wrong dosage of medication. (East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, Summary 1166, page 100).
  • A woman in her eighties spent nearly ten months in hospital after she was ready to be discharged. (Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group, Summary 1176, page 111).

The report contains a snapshot of unresolved complaints brought to the Ombudsman service for investigation, over October, November and December last year, of which 41% were upheld.

During the three month period, the Ombudsman service completed investigating 889 complaints, 730 about the NHS in England and 159 about UK government departments and other organisations, such as the Jobcentre Plus, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and the Border Force.

Most of the summaries published today are about upheld or partly upheld complaints. These provide clear and valuable lessons for public services by showing what needs to change to avoid the same mistakes happening again.

During the three month period the report covers, the Ombudsman service upheld 43% of complaints it received about the NHS in England and 31% of parliamentary cases. Combined this is an uphold rate of 41% for this period.

Notes to editors

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on unresolved complaints about the NHS in England and UK government departments and other UK public organisations.

Almost 80% of cases investigated by the Ombudsman service are about the NHS and the rest are about UK government departments and other organisations.

Case summaries are published on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's website, and can be searched by entering key words such as cancer, diagnosis and death, as well as by organisation, for example the name of a hospital trust and by location.