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Once launched, the PHSO will monitor and oversee NHS compliance with the new framework

Today is World Patient Safety Day, recognising that patient safety is a global health priority, particularly in view of the huge challenges and pressures dedicated healthcare workers have faced responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, across the health and care system.

The unprecedented demands on the system have meant that there have been many clinical and non-clinical staff who have been redeployed to areas of service that may not have been their usual practice area. As well as disruption to the usual healthcare provision, there was also a temporary pause in the NHS investigating new complaints, which has ended. As a result, the NHS is now seeing an increase not just in the volume of patients’ and relatives’ complaints, but also in the complexity of those complaints, particularly when they relate to COVID-19.

The standard of care held to apply will not alter due to the pandemic. However, when a complaint is raised, it will be necessary to take into account changes in working environment and all relevant information about resources/staffing and guidelines/protocols, when fully responding. In addition, the causative impact of any delay in treatment will be more complex and need very careful consideration. Managing this increasing number and complexity will be very challenging for already stretched resources within complaints teams.

Weightmans is here to help and our complaint handling service, Remedy, works with you in a flexible, bespoke and efficient way to ensure greatest possible complainant satisfaction, thereby reducing claims and therefore also costs.

The type of complaints we are seeing arising out of the pandemic relate to:

  • Delays in investigating and treating non-COVID-19 patients
    We expect there to be many patients who will complain about the delays in undertaking investigations or receiving treatment within acute and chronic care during this period. Cancer Research UK indicated that fewer operations to remove tumours had taken place, and vital treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy had been postponed. There are many other areas where investigations and treatment have understandably had to be delayed.
  • Delays in referring COVID-19 patients to hospital for hospital treatment early enough
    This may have resulted in either a deterioration of a patient’s condition which could have been avoided or even the death of a family member, and can be an issue for the ambulance service, NHS 111 primary care/GPs and/or mental health services.
  • Bed allocation and prioritisation of care
    Difficult decisions had to be made to discharge patients to free up beds for other patients, which may also have led to complaints and patient challenges. There is cross over with primary care services and the care home sector with many patients, both COVID and non-COVID, being discharged to different care sectors.
  • The bringing back of retired clinicians/surgeons, redeployment to different specialities, and increased use of trainees/volunteers
    In order to assist with frontline services, many clinical staff were redeployed or brought back from retirement. There may be complaints received regarding the inexperience or knowledge associated with such redeployment and the use of volunteers.
  • Contraction of the COVID-19 virus
    It is likely that a number of patients who were required to attend hospital for non-COVID treatment throughout the pandemic will have contracted COVID-19. Of course this does not mean that they contracted the virus at the hospital itself, but patients may make this assumption in the first instance. There will also be complaints being brought by trust staff who have contracted the virus and may consider that this was whilst working, particularly if there was insufficient PPE available. 

It is important to note that The General Medical Council (GMC) on Monday 14 September 2020 issued guidance for its staff detailing how to take the context created by COVID-19 into account when considering complaints about doctors.

The PHSO’s public consultation regarding “The Complaints Standards Framework” is underway and is due to end on 18 September 2020. This will be followed by the PHSO, piloting the new framework with trusts and GP practices that volunteer to be involved in early 2021, with the framework expected to be launched later next year. The framework is built on four main principles:

  • Promoting a learning and improvement culture;
  • Positively seeking feedback;
  • Being thorough and fair;
  • Giving fair and accountable decisions.

The key messages are that good complaint handling must be open and responsive to the concerns raised, adopting a compassionate, clear and consistent approach across the organisation. At the heart of the framework is to involve and listen to the patient/the family and the staff to reach an early resolution, enhance meaningful learning and embed clinical/service improvement, with the aim of avoiding the same circumstances arising again.

All staff dealing with complaints must be appropriately trained and fully supported including the leaders of the NHS organisations. To this end the PHSO aim to develop a learning academy and enable access to training to all involved in dealing with complaints.

Once launched, the PHSO will monitor and oversee NHS compliance with the new framework, with the proposed publication of the results of this monitoring. Therefore, it has never been more important to ensure that your complaints team is adequately resourced and that it is working very closely with your patient safety and risk leads, to ensure that the learning is shared across the system from the earliest possible stage of the investigations.

Our complaints handling service, Remedy, will work with you to set out clear expectations, formulating a structured complaint plan from the outset, along with establishing good communication lines with the patients, relatives and the staff involved. This will also be assisted by a comprehensive data analysis of the complaint themes emerging, as well as providing structured feedback, training and learning programme to improve patient satisfaction, service improvements and staff support. Our complaints service, Remedy, provides a range of levels of service, complementing the work you are already doing seamlessly, together with providing data analysis to share the learning.

Read more about Remedy and how we can help you.



Find out more about our bespoke healthcare complaints handling service, and how we can work alongside you to manage and resolve complaints efficiently and effectively.


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