Death is rarely an ideal situation for anyone

Readers may not believe it - or maybe they will - but this is a direct quote from a letter sent by an NHS organisation to a bereaved daughter, in response to a complaint she had made about her deceased parent's care. It is highlighted as a how not to do it example in the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman's review of complaint handling by the NHS for the year 2011 to 2012.

The report highlights a rise in the number of complaints made about care in the NHS including a 50% rise in the number of complaints in which patients feel that the NHS had inadequately acknowledged mistakes in care. It makes recommendations for strong leadership and embedding good complaint handling at the heart of the NHS as a way of improving patient experience.

We are often called in to advise both commissioners and providers when a patient complaint is taking up an excessive amount of staff time or litigation has been threatened. There are some complainants who can never be satisfied. However our experience shows that something as simple as a carelessly phrased letter (falling well short of the example above) can inflame a complainant who might otherwise be satisfied with a quick and frank apology. An apology is not the same thing as an admission of liability as the NHSLA has made clear.

The Ombudsman's report can be downloaded here.

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