How NI health care bodies say they deal with complaints

In an interview with The Detail, Northern Ireland's Public Service Ombudsman (NIPSO) has raised serious concerns about the number of healthcare complaints lodged with her office.

The Detail asked each of Northern Ireland's healthcare organisations how they deal with complaints. Read their responses in full below:


"From March 2015 until April 2016, six complainants indicated that they would be contacting the Ombudsman following the outcome of the Northern Trust’s complaints procedure. Only two of these cases were taken on by the Ombudsman and the trust awaits the outcome of this process.

"The Northern Trust works towards finding a resolution to complaints and endeavours to complete any investigation as thoroughly as possible to provide a satisfactory response within the 20 day target.

"Complaints are taken very seriously by the trust and are seen as a significant source of learning, providing an opportunity to improve outcomes for services users, the quality of services and service user experience.”


"The Western Trust takes all complaints seriously and welcomes the opportunity to learn from all complaints received. The trust welcomes and values feedback, both positive and negative from patients and service users about their experience of our services and this is embedded into our quality improvement processes. We also encourage staff to resolve complaints at the point of contact so that action can be taken at a local level to address the concerns raised.

"The trust promotes the Patients’ Advocacy Office to all patients, clients and relatives. If anyone has an issue with their care or treatment we would encourage them to raise this through the trust’s comments and complaints system. Staff within the trust's Complaints Department regularly deal with informal complaints and liaise with service users and professional staff to try to obtain a satisfactory outcome.

"Service users may also raise a formal complaint. All formal complaints are investigated and responded to in writing by the chief executive. Complainants are given the opportunity to contact the trust again if they are dissatisfied with this response to request a further review of their complaint. If resolution cannot be achieved at this stage, they may refer their complaint to the NI Ombudsman. Last year (1 April 2015 – 31 March 2016), only 1.3% (6) of the total complaints received by the Western Trust were referred to the Ombudsman."


"During the past year, (2015/16) we have had a decrease of 8% in formal complaints. Nine complainants approached the ombudsman. Of these, four were not taken on, while five are ongoing.

"We welcome the opportunities complaints provide us with to learn lessons and improve our services. Complaints are discussed with staff and action plans initiated, where appropriate. We have a Lessons Learnt Committee, which reports directly to the chief executive. We also receive many compliments, and have noted an increase of compliments on social media."


"Last year, only 1.5% (16) of the total complaints received by The Southern Trust were referred to the Ombudsman.

"A significant number of complaints referred to the ombudsman regarding The Southern Trust are not upheld."


"During April 15 to March 16, 0.46% (8 cases) of formal complaints received by Belfast Trust were referred to the ombudsman. A significant number of complaints are not upheld by the ombudsman, with only a very small number upheld during this financial year.

"Belfast Trust received approximately three times more compliments that complaints during 2015/16."


"Since the introduction of the revised complaints arrangements for Health and Social Care in 2009, the number of complaints received by HSC organisations has increased each year. Complaints by service users are to be welcomed as they provide an opportunity to learn from experience and improve services. During 2014, the HSC Board undertook a complaints awareness campaign, with the aim of promoting the existence and availability of the HSC Complaints Procedure. This campaign included the development of a new ‘signposting’ leaflet to correctly guide people who wished to make a complaint about health and social care.

"The number of complaints received each year must be viewed in context with the many thousands of individual patient/client interactions that take place every day in hospitals, clinics, GP and dental surgeries, day centres, and by other HSC staff attending patients in their own homes. In 2014/15 there were approximately 7,500 complaints received throughout the HSC. The ombudsman received 337 complaints regarding health and social care, a 9% reduction from the previous year, and of which only 74 were taken on for full investigation.

"While each HSC organisation has responsibility for identifying learning from complaints, part of the HSC Board’s role is to have oversight of all HSC complaints and to identify and disseminate learning of a regional nature. To inform this work, the HSC Board receives information regarding the local resolution of complaints from the HSC Trusts and Family Practitioner Services. Learning from complaints has contributed to the development of regional policy, procedure and information, for example the Regional Dementia Strategy, care pathway for staff in emergency departments for the management of patients presenting with a gynaecological or obstetric problem, the Food and Nutrition Strategy, the Falls Strategy, and the development of literature for parents who have experienced a miscarriage, still birth or neonatal birth, to name but a few.

"In addition the Health and Social Care Board plans, co-ordinates and delivers an Annual Learning from Complaints Event. This event attended by all HSC organisations looks at key themes emerging from complaints and the learning associated with this is shared and discussed, and includes service user input. This year’s event will be held on Monday 13 June 2016 and will focus on the learning from another recurrent theme of complaints, privacy, dignity and respect.”


"People have increasingly demanding expectations of the health and social care sector and we all expect the best possible treatment and care for ourselves and our families. Every complaint is not simply an expression of dissatisfaction from someone who uses the service but it is also an opportunity to place the focus on learning to help improve the experience of the services for other people. The HSC is already committed to dealing with complaints fully and improving the manner in which it does so.

“The Northern Ireland Ombudsman Annual Report for 2014-2015 indicated that the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman’s Office in relation to health and social care reduced slightly from a high of 370 in 2013-14 to 337 in 2014-2015. The number of complaints being taken to the Ombudsman’s Office over this period represents around 6.5% of the 5,154 complaints received by HSC Trusts, Board and Family Practitioner Service in Northern Ireland in the same period, the vast majority of which received a substantive response with 20 working days. It is regrettable that in some cases the patient or their family may be unhappy with the resolution of their complaint by the HSC body and in these cases they have taken their case to the Ombudsman’s Office seeking the answers that they need. The Department of Health and HSC bodies would welcome working with the Ombudsman’s Office in any event aimed at looking at how health and social care can learn from the Ombudsman’s Office experience.”

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