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CAMHS won't see you now

GPs differ over when to medicate CHD risk

The body responsible for handling NHS complaints has called on ministers to crack down on PCTs over a litany of failures in dealing with cases.

In a damning report, the Healthcare Commission said PCTs were failing to sort out cases locally. It also criticised trusts for missing by weeks deadlines for passing on information about complaints escalated to independent review.

Tough measures against PCTs were needed to enable it to deal with the dramatic rise in the number of complaints being referred to independent review, the commission said.

It is expecting to deal with 9,000 complaints against all NHS staff this year, up from just 3,000 in 2003 and almost double the 5,000 cases it was expecting.

Measures the commission has called for include a nationally agreed protocol for trusts, assurances from chief executives that everything has been done to resolve a complaint locally, and new league tables of complaint handling by PCTs.

Also mooted are proposals to charge trusts for complaints sent for independent review.

Gurp Chahil, the commission's head of complaints, said a quarter of cases had to be sent back to trusts for further resolution.

He added that some trusts were taking up to 50 days to provide information needed to assess cases, compared with a target of 10 days

He said: 'It is in the interests of patients that the handling of complaints at a local level should be improved.'

The commssion was forced to bring in a private firm, Huntswood Outsourcing, to clear a backlog of 2,000 'low-risk' cases at a cost of £1 million. It now plans to extend the deal and also said it expected the number of complaints to rise further next year.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said PCTs were 'passing the buck' as they could not cope with many cases.

'More needs to be done to sort out these problems locally and speed up the process, but the problem is that PCTs just don't have the expertise to deal with a lot of complaints.'

Gary Fereday, NHS Confederation policy manager, opposed charging PCTs.

He said: 'As it is the complainant who decides whether to appeal to the Healthcare Commission, it would be wrong to penalise NHS organisations when they may have done everything they can to resolve the complaint.'

By Joe Lepper

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