Healthwatch England shines the spotlight on complaints at first national Healthwatch network conference

The right to complain about an unsatisfactory service is a key consumer right, and one the entire Healthwatch network will champion.

Healthwatch England, the independent consumer champion for health and social care in England, put the spotlight on complaints at the first national conference for the Healthwatch network. The conference took place on 20 June in Birmingham and speakers included Norman Lamb, minister for Care and Support, Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary and local Healthwatch amongst others.

Our role is to ensure that the voices of consumers and those who use services reach the ears of decision makers – even when those voices have something difficult to say.

A recent survey carried out amongst consumers of health and social care highlighted that the current system simply doesn’t work. There are endless paths to follow and we found the quality of data available in complaints to be very poor. There is absolutely no demographic breakdown rendering the data that is there almost useless. 

Some findings from the survey include:

  • 48% of people do not have the confidence that formal complaints are actually dealt with (rises to 60% for the 55+ age group)
  • Over 54% of people who had a problem with health or social care in the last three years did nothing to report it
  • 49% of consumers surveyed have no trust in the system and are crying out for an independent and easily recognisable advocate to deal with complaints

Top three for consumers in importance in relation to complaints are:

  • Being honest when things go wrong
  • Treating people as a valued individual
  • Providing good quality information

The idea of a single well signposted advocacy service for health and social care to make things easier has been highlighted in the consumer survey carried out by Healthwatch England and YouGov. It has been mirrored in interviews with public sector leaders, consumers and decision makers alike. Overall consumers also told Healthwatch England that they wanted a quick resolution when raising complaints and would like to see a straightforward process that focused on people rather than systems

Anna Bradley, Chair of Healthwatch England said:

“Our unique mandate is to be the voice of the consumer and we will not rest until the complaints system is overhauled and fit for purpose. Consumers have shared with us their fears, concerns and indeed, hopes for a new complaints system and we will continue to be their voice at a national level. The more organisations that accept that consumers have rights in health and social care too, the better the complaints system will be in the long run.

In our role as consumer champion, we have written to our statutory partners NHS England, the Department of Health, The Care Quality Commission, Monitor and the LGA requesting a discussion on complaints and benchmarking, integration and the need for a single recognisable advocacy brand. We look forward to progressing discussions.”

Katherine Rake, Chief Executive of Healthwatch England, said:

“We have looked at the current complaints system through the eyes of the consumer and found that it is simply not working. Our recent consumer survey has highlighted basic fundamentals such as not having any trust in the system. Consumers are also crying out for an independent and easily recognisable advocate to deal with complaints. It just has to be easier.”