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Report on Complaints and Litigation (Government Response)

Volume 532: debated on Thursday 15 September 2011

We have today laid before Parliament “Government Response to the House of Commons Health Committee Sixth Report of the Session 2010-12: Complaints and Litigation” (Cm 8120).

The starting point for this Committee’s inquiry has been that sometimes patient experience of the NHS falls below the high standards expected, and when this happens patients should have access to a responsive and effective complaints and if necessary litigation systems.

The majority of people using health and social care services in England are satisfied with the care and treatment received. However, there are times where things go wrong. In these circumstances, it is important that people are able to make a complaint and to have it investigated and dealt with effectively.

Complaints are important and need to be taken seriously. When something has gone wrong it needs to be put right quickly, and organisations need to work closely with people to find the most appropriate resolution to a complaint. Organisations also need to make sure they learn from every aspect of a complaint so that the same thing does not happen again. The more successful organisations take the views of their customers, including views expressed in complaints, seriously.

A small proportion of complaints made about care relate to negligent harm. In these circumstances, it is correct that complainants are able to obtain proportionate compensation in a timely manner for the harm they have suffered.

The Government’s civil justice reforms will develop a system that is proportionate, encourages personal responsibility in resolving disputes, and with streamlined procedures to provide timely access to justice. This will improve outcomes for patients seeking compensation, and allow limited NHS resources to be diverted away from legal expenses and back to patient care.

The Government welcome the Committee’s acceptance that the current complaints arrangements provide the potential for delivering better outcomes for complainants and improvements in service delivery. However, the Government accept that there is more to do, and we will work with the NHS better to ensure lessons learned from the local investigations of complaints feed into service improvements. Good practice does exist in the NHS, and it needs to be shared more widely.

The NHS reforms the Government have proposed, offer an opportunity to drive improvement, and to improve patients’ experiences of the NHS, and they will put patients, carers and local communities at the heart of the NHS. In addition the Government’s transparency agenda, along with the wider information sharing agenda instigated by the health service ombudsman, the Department of Health and regulatory bodies should help to ensure that in future, information in respect of complaints will be more widely available to the public to inform choice and to highlight areas of healthcare provision that need improvement.