03 July 2013

Lawyers take aim at NHS complaint procedures

NHS guidance for investigating complaints from patients has been declared 'confusing' and 'unlawful' by campaigners and their lawyers, as threats of a legal challenge build against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

By Charlotte Mullen

Hospitals are refusing complaints that threaten legal action

Telegraph reports that charity Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) has prepared a legal letter warning the NHS to review ambiguous guidance that gives hospitals power to block any complaints from patients that are potentially considering legal action, after a number of cases of refused complaints have been brought to light across the NHS.

Medical blunders

Despite the recent scandal of the loss of 1,200 patients due to negligence in care at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, hospitals appear to still be finding ways to avoid confessing to medical blunders if there is any talk of suing involved in the complaint. AvMA chief executive Peter Walsh said his pleas for a positive and active response from ministers have so far been ignored, and added that he was outraged at the Department of Health's persistence in allowing the NHS to 'use potential claims for clinical negligence as an excuse not to provide a truthful investigation and response to a complaint'.

Judicial review

The NHS complaints procedure - as stated on its  website - explains the rights of the public to make a complaint according to the NHS Consitution, it reads: 'You have the right to [...] take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman' and similarly to 'make a claim for judicial review if you think you've been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body'. This guidance, however, has been found contradictory in its terms as more and more patients wishing to take legal action have found themselves blocked at every turn.

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