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13th August 2013

Ombudsman: 'Toxic cocktail' stops hospitals learning from mistakes

The NHS Ombudsman for England, Julie Mellor, has revealed that a 'toxic cocktail' of a reluctance to complain by patients and a defensive attitude among staff is stopping some NHS hospitals learning from their mistakes.

Feedback from patients and complainants, carers and frontline staff was gathered as part of the research into how the NHS handles complaints - following UK Government review ordered after the failings identified at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation NHS Trust.

The research revealed that poor communication and the defensive culture within the NHS towards complaints were the key issues for patients and complainants.

Staff feedback showed:-

  • a fear of being blamed, rather than being acknowledged for trying to put things right
  • a confusing variation in complaints procedures between hospitals
  • a feeling that there is too much deference to senior colleagues on wards
  • the need for more training in how to handle complaints


Calls for urgent changes to complaints procedures

The Ombudsman called for urgent changes in NHS complaints procedures including for:

  • moving towards an open culture of feedback and improvement
  • a fresh focus on putting things right on the ward
  • replacing the culture of deference and hierarchy with a new culture of collaboration between leaders and staff to listen to concerns and improve services

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