NHS Lothian watchdog complaints at all-time high

Linday Weddell's mother, Louise. Picture: Complimentary
Linday Weddell's mother, Louise. Picture: Complimentary
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GRIEVANCES against NHS Lothian to Scotland’s top watchdog have hit an all-time high, figures reveal.

In 2012-13, 135 people took their issue with the health board to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), the last resort for those who have failed to resolve their dispute directly.

The rise came after the Evening News revealed that complaints from patients to NHS Lothian also hit record levels last year, with more than ten a day flooding in.

An increased willingness to complain about the NHS, following scandals such as the waiting times debacle and Mid Staffordshire, may lie behind the rising trend as people now feel more comfortable about raising grievances, ombudsman Jim Martin said.

While he said increased levels of complaints did not necessarily reflect a poorer service, he added that some patients were “experiencing significant problems” with the health service nationwide.

MSPs expressed worries over the surge in serious cases being dealt with by the ombudsman.

Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “I’m concerned that there’s been a big rise in the overall number of complaints and that nearly half are about clinical treatment or diagnosis. Moreover, SPSO upheld more cases this year.

“People who contact me about problems they have experienced are motivated by the desire to see those who come after them benefiting from lessons learned from their experience. Where a condition is picked up late or misdiagnosed it can be a matter of life or death.”

The 135 complaints in the last financial year compared with 123 in 2010-11, 131 in 2009-10 and 119 in 2008-9. The latest total is the highest since data became available in 2004-5.

Mr Martin said that while he believed there were many examples of “excellent practice” in the NHS in Scotland with regard to complaints, he also saw examples of “defensiveness and a lack of willingness to admit mistakes and to learn from them”.

Stuart Wilson, director of communications and public affairs at NHS Lothian, said that the ombudsman report on the health sector had highlighted a rise in complaints to health boards and to the ombudsman across Scotland.

He added: “NHS Lothian takes complaints very seriously and we are currently working to make our processes even more robust than they are at the moment.

“This has already borne fruit and in the last few months we have seen the number of complaints 
received coming down. This is coupled with us meeting our targets on acknowledging complaints and responding to them within three days and 20 days respectively over the same time period.

“However, we cannot be complacent and complaints is an area that will continually receive a high degree of attention.”

Sick Notes

• CHRIS Piccini said his life was ruined after NHS Lothian left him without any teeth.

The 55-year-old Belgian’s weight dropped by a stone after dentures he had fitted cut into his gums “like a knife”.

They caused ulcers, and made him “talk funny”, forcing him to abandon them.

But when he was referred to a specialist he was simply referred back to his dentist without even being seen.

The ombudsman ordered NHS Lothian to issue a full apology to the Pilton father-of-two and arrange a new appointment with a consultant.

• NHS Lothian was slammed last year by the ombudsman after a surgeon removed the appendix of Anne Marie Hickey without telling her.

Theatre nurse Ms Hickey only learned of its removal eight years afterwards when she went in for another operation after being wrongly diagnosed with appendicitis.

The original operation in which the appendix was wrongly taken out occurred at the old Royal Infirmary during a pancreas and kidney transplant in 2002.

• EX-MINER Stuart Notman, 81, died at the Royal Infirmary in 2011, weeks after he was admitted following a fall at his Loanhead home.

His family said he had been left without water for 36 hours and died while “vomiting and retching” after being pumped full of morphine.

After taking their case to the ombudsman, he reported “serious failings” including insufficient nursing care, chaotic note taking and a lack of involvement of the lead consultant in care.

Mr Notman’s daughter, Maree, said: “We just wanted them to say sorry and we don’t want someone else or their family to go through what we went through.”

• Lindsay Weddell struggled with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder as a 14-year-old before she developed anorexia. She died in 2004, aged 20, after being shunted between nine hospitals in Scotland and England in search of care. The ombudsman ruled that health boards failed to provide appropriate care and treatment for Lindsay, from Currie, during her six-year battle with the illness. Improvements in treatment for people with eating disorders were brought in throughout Lothian as a result. Mother Louise is pictured with a photo of Lindsay.