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The health service ombudsman has delivered a scathing attack on the way PCTs and other NHS organisations handle patient complaints.
In a report released this week, ombudsman Ann Abraham said there was 'a lack of capacity and competence in complaint handling' across the NHS.
She called for the Department of Health to show greater leadership and to set up of a national complaints-handling protocol to which PCTs would be forced to adhere.
Her criticism is the latest in a series of attacks on complaints handling in the NHS.
The Healthcare Commission recently condemned a widespread failure by PCTs to deal with cases locally.
It blamed trusts for allowing the number of complaints escalated to the independent review stage, which it handles, to double within a year.
GPs have also complained of being made to wait months before often vexatious complaints against them are dealt with.
Ms Abraham said all NHS bodies needed to be responsive to complaints and value the feedback they provided. She added: 'To do so they need competent, trained and motivated staff using robust local procedures.'
GPs said the failures to deal with complaints often damaged doctors as much as patients.
Dr Gerri McKeever, a former GP in Kent who quit as a result of 'incompetent' handling of a vexatious complaint by her PCT, said: 'I think they're not failing the complainant, they're failing the doctor.'
She added: 'We've had GPs who have committed suicide waiting for complaints to be dealt with. The pressure just builds up.'
Dr Tony Welch, Surrey and Sussex LMCs joint chief executive, said PCTs did not have the expertise to handle complaints. He said: 'With the Healthcare Commission taking over much of the work of complaint handling, PCTs have been left out of the loop.
A spokesman for the NHS Confederation said that it would encourage trusts to learn from their mistakes without promoting a 'tick box mentality'.
By Joe Lepper