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NHS Ombudsman Report - Top Reasons for Complaints About Hospital Trusts

Diagnosis errors, poor clinical care and treatment, and poor communication - including poor apologies - are the top three reasons for complaints made to hospitals as published in a report released by the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman on 22 September 2015.

Who is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman?

The Ombudsman is an independent body set up by the government to provide an independent complaints handling service.

If you have a complaint relating to the service provided, you should go to the organisation concerned in the first instance so they have the opportunity to put things right.

If you feel the matter has still not been resolved after the organisation has responded, you can ask the Ombudsman to investigate your complaint.

What Does the Report Show in Terms of Differences from Previous Years?

In preparation for its 2013/2014 report, the Ombudsman completed 868 investigations. This year it has increased this tally significantly by completing 1,652 investigations.

By comparing the numbers of complaints being investigated by the Ombudsman to the size of each trust, the report shows how likely a trust is to receive a complaint about its services. The size of a trust is calculated by looking at clinical episode data which relates to admission and outpatient attendances. The purpose of the report is to allow trusts the opportunity to consider what their data says about their complaints system.

Compared to last year, there has been an 8% increase in the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman. It acknowledges this increase may well be the result of an increased use of services.

The report also shows that at the local level, when a complaint is still with the hospital before the Ombudsman gets involved, there has been a steady increase in the number of complaints made about acute trusts.


  • 38% of complaints related to clinical care and treatment. This was the most common reason for complaints, which is similar to the Ombudsman’s previous report.
  • Poor communication was the reason given for 35% of complaints, marking a decrease of 7%. Interestingly, staff attitudes are linked to communication, and were a factor in 21% of complaints this year, which is similar to last year’s report.
  • Failures and errors in diagnosing illness was the reason for 31% of complaints, a slight decrease from last year’s 35%.

What Does This Mean for Healthcare Standards Across the Country?

Although an increase in the number of complaints made is worrying, there is currently more pressure than ever before on our health care services, both in terms of finances and an ever growing population. Therefore, many would argue that these factors are the real reasons behind the increased number of complaints.

It has also been argued that an increase in the number of complaints is not necessarily indicative of a decrease in the standards of service provided. Those Trusts which have developed a transparent and consistent approach to responding to complaints may well see an increase in complaints because of their pro-active approach.

It is hoped that the increase in complaints will provide additional opportunities for Trusts to learn from their mistakes and to make improvements to the services provided.

Sadly, many people are still apprehensive about making a complaint when they receive poor standards of care. Although it is sometimes difficult to complain, your complaint means the hospital or other care provider has to reflect on events and consider where mistakes may have been made and how standards can be improved, resulting ultimately, in better healthcare standards for all.

Claire Horton is a Senior Clinical Negligence Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

If you or a member of your family suffered from negligent treatment in hospital, call our Medical Negligence Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.

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