Health trust sees rise in complaints

COMPLAINTS about treatment and staff at an Essex health trust rose last year despite special training, it has emerged.And plaudits of gratitude to employees from patients of Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust dropped from 2,396 to 1,693 in the financial year 2005-6.

COMPLAINTS about treatment and staff at an Essex health trust rose last year despite special training, it has emerged.

And plaudits of gratitude to employees from patients of Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust dropped from 2,396 to 1,693 in the financial year 2005-6.

Members of the trust's clinical governance committee heard that areas in which complaints had been made included clinical treatment, nursing care, poor communications and staff attitude.

Last year, a total of 469 complaints were made to the trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital, compared to 411 the year before.

There were also 45 medical negligence claims, although none of these were settled in the period.

It was recorded that the complaint figures, which correlated with information from patient surveys, were “a serious concern for members of the committee”.

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The trust's director of nursing, Denise Hagel, said that customer care training had been put in place to try and stem the number of complaints, but “it was evident that the effectiveness of this was not being borne out in the standards of behaviour of the trust's staff.”

She went on to say that she would make sure employees were aware of the complaints and litigation situation.

Yesterday a trust spokesman acknowledged the figures but stressed they needed to be taken in context.

“What must be remembered is the huge amount of activity the trust undertakes,” he said.

“In the year in which the 469 complaints were received, there were 208,773 out-patient attendances, 99,410 patients seen in the accident and emergency department, 54,890 in patients and day care admissions, 26,673 patients operated on in our theatres and 3,574 babies delivered.

“We have also got better at dealing with complaints within a national set target time - in the last year 85% of complaints were responded to within 20 days, whereas in the previous year only 63% were.”

The spokesman added that the decline in plaudits - notes of appreciation or gifts to staff from patients - was understood to relate to the fact many were not recorded, rather than that the number of grateful patients had declined.