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Your spotlight on health and social care services


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Our work to improve the complaints system

Healthwatch is unique in that our sole purpose is to understand the needs, experiences and concerns of people who use health and social care services and to speak out on their behalf.

Using the views of the public we identify where and why things are not working and, most importantly, how people want things done differently. It is through this lens that we have examined the current failings of what the public tell us is an overly complex, incredibly frustrating and largely ineffective complaints system in health and social care

Suffering in Silence: our report on complaints

We first focused on building up a clear picture of how health and social care complaints are currently handled in England. We found that a staggering 75 types of organisations in England have a role in complaints handling and support, from councils and CCGs locally to national regulators.

We then spoke to consumers to find out what their thoughts on complaints are, what prevents them from complaining and what they'd like to see moving forward. We also talked to key public sector leaders to find out what they are learning and what good might look like in an ideal world. You can watch the film or download a copy of the transcript (PDF).

We identified problems in the system based on their experiences and proposed changes based on what people told us they need from the complaints system. For more details on these you can download the report.

Consumer guides to help people make a complaint

While we recognise that change is needed for the system to work for people, we also realise that change takes time.

To help the people who need help now, we worked with Citizens Advice to produce materials, including consumer guides, that help people navigate the current complaints system as our early research showed that people find the system 'utterly bewildering'.

Standards for complaints advocacy

People have also told us that being able to access to high quality support and advocacy is crucial in ensuring they feel able to complain.

We are proposing a set of standards that provide a vision of what a good complaints advocacy service should look like, from the perspective of service users. They are an easy-to-use guide to what people should expect from the service.

These standards are also a valuable resource for commissioners and providers. They should be used in planning, delivering and monitoring to ensure that complaints advocacy services meet service user needs and expectations. We believe that every provider and commissioner who aspires to provide a better, more user-orientated service will want to use these standards.

In Hard Truths, the Department of Health asked Healthwatch England to help set the standards for good complaints advocacy. This work was commissioned in light of concerns raised in the Clwyd Hart review and the Francis report about the visibility and varying quality of complaints advocacy services.

We have written to the Secretary of State to ask him to consider the regulatory basis needed to implement these standards. Nevertheless, commissioners and providers of complaints advocacy services across health and social care can make use of this document immediately. These standards will also be of use to services such as PALS, Healthwatch and the CQC, who are not involved in the provision of complaints advocacy but work alongside these services.

Every complaint matters – our seven point action plan

The evidence collected by the Healthwatch network through our conversations with thousands of those of who have experienced the frustrations of the complaints system first hand suggests that progress has been disappointingly slow. We have therefore called on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to take action with a seven point plan for reform that will create an effective and compassionate complaints system that both gives patients what they need and ensures the NHS and social care services can learn from their mistakes.