Figures show huge drop in number of NHS complaints made about health board

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THE number of complaints made about NHS Lothian has plummeted, new figures have shown.

The authority received 845 complaints under its official procedures during 2010-11, down from 1157 the previous year.

Those fully upheld dropped from around 192 to 155, with the ones upheld in part dropping from 385 to 291.

In a breakdown of departments, the largest number of complaints – 572 – were made about the board’s acute hospitals – the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, St John’s Hospital in Livingston, the Western General and the Sick Kids – down from 816 the previous year.

The only areas where the number of complaints had risen were maternity, up from 46 to 54, and community hospitals, up from seven to 12.

Standard of treatment was the most complained-about issue, with 307 gripes, while 259 people took issue with staff and 93 complained of waiting too long for treatment.

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, welcomed the news with caution. She said: “It’s encouraging, but let’s be more encouraged by them going down again – next year let’s get it down to 400, or how about none,” she said.

Ms Watt said she thought part of the reason for the reduction was that the board had a very efficient nurse director, Melanie Hornett, who was keen to deal directly with patients having multiple problems, rather than leaving them to make repeated complaints.

She said: “I know they’re trying very hard and they have a lovely lady who’s the nurse director and she’s very conscientious and gets quite angry when she sees some of the things that are happening. She’s the person we deal with if we’ve gone through the complaints procedures and we’re still not happy, and nine out of ten times we can get a meeting with her and she gets it all sorted out.”

She added the types of complaints made in the Lothians were similar to those made around Scotland.

She said: “Shortage of staff, cleanliness, and people that are not being given respect and dignity – the buzzers that are being put out of their reach; patients that are being told ‘can’t you wait? I can’t take you to the toilet right now’.”

NHS Lothian’s associate nurse director Pat Dawson said: “NHS Lothian welcomes feedback from patients, and all the feedback we receive is used constructively to improve services. Over the past year we have improved the way we communicate with patients about the complaints and feedback process. We have encouraged teams to take responsibility at a local level and to respond directly to people who contact us with concerns.

“We are pleased that this approach seems to have contributed to a reduction in complaints and have also been working hard to make it as easy as possible for people to let us know what they think of our services. This includes introducing a phone number and a range of feedback options on our website.”

The figures relate to the financial year, from April 1 to March 30.

sgyford@edinburghnews.com