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Practices having to deal with patient complaints due to NHS England ‘mess’

Practices are having to deal with complaints sent to NHS England because its new complaints centre has been unable to cope with the volume of calls it is receiving, Pulse has learned.

NHS England’s Complaints Contact Centre has amassed a backlog of queries since taking over responsibility for the procedure from PCTs in April. This has led to complaints being ignored, with patients having to contact the local area teams and the practices they are complaining about, leaving GPs in a state of confusion about how to follow due process.

In Cambridgeshire LMC’s June newsletter, the LMC chief executive Dr Guy Watkins called the new complaints process a ‘mess’ and has organised a meeting with NHS England this week to discuss the situation.

NHS England has admitted there is a problem with the process but could not tell Pulse how many complaints it had received.

Dr Watkins wrote in the newsletter: ‘It’s a mess…NHS England Complaints Contact Centre is a call centre in Redditch, where calls get logged, re-routed then possibly lost in the system. Eventually they may end up back to our area team and then, yes you’ve guessed it, back with the practice.

‘The LMC is concerned that if the NHS procedures are not properly operating, patients may have to approach the NHS ombudsman, a process that is not always rewarding in terms of increasing understanding.’

Dr Tim Morton, chairman of Norfolk and Waveney LMC, said that lack of communication about the new correct process for complaints led to practices being worried they weren’t following due process.

He said: ‘There was a lack of clarity over what we do with a complaint when it changed from PCTs to NHS England. Practices were trying to do the right thing, and calling the LMC to ask what the process is. They were worried about following due process on complaints.

‘We are trying to understand… what’s happening so we can advise practices on how to comply with CQC regulations and comply with obligations complaints process.’

He added that the new call centre was too far removed from local practices to properly solve complaint disputes: ‘We really hope to resolve things at the practice level. If it escapes practice level, NHS England’s call centre is too remote to discuss what often is highly emotionally charged issues.’

Dr John Grenville, medical secretary of Derbyshire LMC agreed there were problems with the new system. He said that PCTs used to act as an intermediary so that most complaints were handled at the local stage.

He said: ‘I agree with Cambridgeshire that it’s a mess. I don’t think NHS England understand what its role is. When patients felt unable or unwilling to approach their practice directly the PCT would act as an intermediary for them in the local resolution stage. They often took the opportunity to check that the practice was operating a complaints system that was compliant with the regulations.

‘I would hope that the vast majority of complaints will continue to be resolved at practice level, with or without the help and involvement of NHS England.’

An NHS England spokesman acknowledged that there was a backlog of phonecalls to the new call centre, but could not tell Pulse how many complaints have not been answered.

The spokesperson said: ‘We are ambitious in what we want to achieve and really value patient feedback. As we are new we have opened up new channels for the public which were not there before, and as a result we have attracted a large amount of calls. It’s also important to note that not all calls are actual complaints but general enquiries.

They added: ‘Nonetheless we will provide clear and unambiguous information to customers on our website and this will improve further as we develop our customer facing digital platforms.

‘We want to make sure patient and public voice really does make a difference to the design and delivery of services.

‘Complaints are a key component of this and making sure we tell people what has happened as a result of their complaint or comment has to be one of our priorities.’