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MRSA Action UK: Why blame patients for complaining when things go wrong?

Why blame patients for complaining when things go wrong?

The report on the 9th September by the Sunday Mail Medical Correspondent Jo Macfarlane titled “Complaints culture is bleeding schools and hospitals dry” made very interesting reading from the point of view of MRSA Action UK. The report centred on the fact that a report produced by the think tank “Centre for policy studies” has shown it says how litigation against public bodies such as the NHS is “ingrained in the national psyche as a warped form of normal behaviour”.

This last comment we believe to be disingenuous from the point of view that not everyone wishes to take legal action and, from our experience, this form of action is a last resort for many families and patients because they have been left no other option because of the sometimes difficult attitude of the staff in the NHS.

There is an irony that the report from the “Centre for policy studies” failed to mention that the NHS is the only public body, that we are aware of, that has it’s own full time litigation authority costing some £7 million per year set up to deal with the complaints from patients regarding treatment they have received from a healthcare system that is supposed to protect them.

The NHS and the Government would do far better to concentrate not on the “warped behaviour of the public” as the report says, they would do far better to change the culture of “secrecy and closed ranks” within the medical profession, take the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells debacle as an example.  During investigations by the Healthcare Commission the trust stated that there were no deaths caused by the Clostridium difficile outbreaks, the investigation concluded that “of the 345 patients who died, approximately 90 deaths where Clostridium difficile was definitely or most probably the main cause of death.”

It is this attitude that makes patients and their families distrustful of medics and managers within the NHS and leads to a feeling of cover up. The staff in the NHS would be far better at being truthful no matter how much it hurts them to do so; they should remember, “That the house of trust is built on the foundations of honesty”.

If as the report says the NHSLA is correct that it now has £16.8 billion of liabilities of legal action against it, then the NHS would be wise because of this cost to consider investing in ensuring that mistakes and accidents are reduced to the irreducible minimum.

Modern industries in other fields of work look at complaints as positive feedback and not negative, as is the norm within the NHS and public bodies. They should remember that the vast majority of people do not like to complain and that when they do they usually have some justification for doing so and no other route left open to them because the complaints system within the NHS is run by the NHS. They would be far better looking at complaints from patients not as “a complaint, but as a free consultancy” as to what went wrong and then take the positive attitude to act upon it. That is how other industries use customer feedback to improve their level of service.

The National Patient Safety Agency was set up by the previous government to try to learn from the mistakes made within the NHS and it was to feedback to both the medical profession and patients. At its height it was receiving some 1.5 million pieces of feedback a year of incidents that were so serious that it warranted reporting to this agency. Yet it appears that it still failed to co-ordinate any useful feedback to the hospitals and other medical facilities within the NHS so that they could learn from incidents. The proof in our opinion, are the consequences reaped by patients through the mistakes and accidents being repeated, is it any wonder patients felt the need to look to the law for recompense.

The NHS is under extreme pressure to make some £20 billion of efficiency savings and the new Health Secretary would do well to look at the amount of money that is now being spoken about in this report. As mentioned already the “Centre for policy studies” has said that the NHSLA has liabilities of some £16.8 billion, reducing this figure would make huge inroads to the efficiency saving the NHS has to make without compromising patient safety and staff  numbers

It would be wise for those within the NHS and from the “Centre for policy studies” to look to their own as for the reason why patients look to the law for recompense, before we say that the compensation culture is “ingrained in the national psyche as a warped form of normal behaviour”.

Derek Butler
MRSA Action UK
07762 741114
Email: derek.butler@mrsaactionuk.net

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