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MPs launch inquiry into NHS complaints and litigation

The Commons health select committee has launched an inquiry into the sharp rise in complaints against the NHS and the reasons behind the inflation of litigation costs in recent years.

The committee said it was “vital that the NHS addresses complaints in a way which satisfies patients and their families in order to maintain confidence in the service”.

It added that complaints could also be an early warning of systemic problems, citing the chair of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust who acknowledged that “the trust failed to listen to patients' concerns, the board did not review the substance of complaints and incident reports were not given the necessary attention”.

The MPs also highlighted the Health Service Ombudsman’s recently published report on its first year of operation. In her foreword, Ann Abraham said: “The NHS needs to listen harder and learn more from complaints. When it fails to do so, it is missing a rich source of insight and information that is freely and readily available and comes directly from service users.”

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The committee therefore called for written evidence on:

  • The reasons for the recent sharp rise in NHS complaints
  • The effectiveness of the new complaints system introduced on 1 April 2009
  • The effectiveness of the constituent parts of the complaints system: local resolution (supported by the Independent Complaints Advocacy Services); and referral to the Ombudsman
  • The role of Patient Advice and Liaison Services as a “gateway” to the complaints system
  • The failure of some Foundation Trusts to report numbers of complaints
  • The government’s plans for future complaints-handling arrangements
  • How data from complaints will feed into the government’s planned new commissioning arrangements.

The health select committee pointed out that litigation – as a means of seeking redress for failures in treatment – imposed a significant cost on the NHS.

“NHS institutions spend hundreds of millions of pounds in premium to insure against litigation, and that does not cover the independent sector, including General Practitioners, who make their own arrangements,” it said.

In this respect, it called for evidence on:

  • The cost of litigation against the NHS
  • Reasons for the inflation of litigation costs in recent years
  • The impact of conditional fee (“no win, no fee”) arrangements on litigation against the NHS
  • The effect of litigation on the development of an open reporting and learning culture in the NHS
  • The government’s intentions regarding the implementation of the NHS Redress Act 2006
  • The possible benefits of a statutory right to compensation for “treatment injury” from an independent fund, without the need to prove negligence, as required under tort law
  • Encouraging the use of mediation before litigation is initiated.

The deadline for submitting written evidence is noon on Tuesday 21 December 2010.

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