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Will the NHS ever get its complaints system right?

13 May 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 9


John Tingle, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, discusses several reports relating to NHS complaint handling

Nobody likes being the subject of a complaint. It can cause distress, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and confidence. Human nature leads us to becoming more defensive. All this is compounded when the healthcare environment you practise in manifests a blame culture and then things go from bad to worse. We have seen recently the concerns expressed by Andrea Sutcliffe, Head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), via Lintern (2021):

‘Some employers were referring nurses without any investigation at all, while half of initial enquiries to the NMC were rejected or required further work. She told The Independent this emphasis on blaming the individual meant underlying causes of safety errors were being missed and so they were likely to be repeated.’

As well as inhibiting the development of an effective NHS patient safety culture in relation to avoiding errors in healthcare delivery, this trend will also cause serious damage to how patient complaints are dealt with. A blame-ridden working environment does not foster the development of a just learning culture and can inhibit people owning up to and reporting errors.

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