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Healthcare Commission fails to reach targets

Some 55 per cent of current cases still not completed after more than six months at independent watchdog

Independent NHS watchdog, the Healthcare Commission (HC), has admitted that it is failing to reach its own targets on resolving complaints.

The HC, which deals with complaints about the health service, said it aims to deal with 85 per cent of complaints within six months and 95 per cent of complaints in 12 months. However, figures obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act show that 55 per cent of current cases (2,875) are actually over six months old.

Of these, nearly 90 complaints have spent more than a year at the HC.

A HC spokeswoman said one problem was that the organisation was receiving too many complaints which it was not required to handle.

ìA number of complaints coming to us should not be coming to us as they should be resolved locally,î she said. ìWe're having to send about a third of complaints back to Trusts because they haven't been dealt with properly.î

The HC took on the new role of independently reviewing NHS complaints not resolved locally in July 2004. Since then it has seen the number of new complaints received each year rising to 8,000 from the 3,500 complaints received annually under the previous system.

The organisation said that in order to tackle the problem, it had invested to the tune of ?10m in new staff and better processes to deal with complaints.

ìWe take complaints very seriously and we are beginning to turn the corner in terms of reviews,î said the HC spokeswoman. ìIn the last couple of months, we have been able to close as many cases as we have received.î

She said that it would take at least a year until the HC reaches its 85 per cent target.

The HC said that the most commonly recurring types of complaint were regarding lack of information and the patient experience.

Michael Summers, senior trustee of the Patients Association, said he sympathised with the HC's position.

ìI don't hold the Healthcare Commission responsible,î he said. ìIt's a mammoth task they've inherited. It may be that they're not quite big enough to handle the backlog of complaints.î

He suggested that the complaints system be overhauled to make the regulatory bodies of the different healthcare professions responsible for handling individual patient's complaints.

30th September 2008

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