Majority of GP practices handle complaints well, says ombudsman

Most GP practices handle complaints effectively and very few are upheld by the NHS watchdog, a report shows.

A total of 55% of GP practices handle complaints well, according to a report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. And very few complaints made about practices are upheld - of 67,012 complaints about GP practices in 2014/15, 20% were investigated by NHS England, and 5,086 were passed to the health service ombudsman.

Of these, 696 were investigated, and just 223 upheld - 31% of the cases investigated, and just 0.3% of all complaints.

But the ombudsman report warns that many practices can improve their handling of complaints, with 45% slipping up by either failing to acknowledge mistakes, not offering apologies or following complaints-handling guidance correctly.

Read more: How feedback can help GPs

The report highlights findings reported earlier this year by GPonline, showing that patient satisfaction with GP practices is higher than for any other NHS service.

But the ombudsman sets out five areas in which practices can improve complaints handling. It says practices should do more to encourage feedback and complaints from patients, and offer reassurance that complaints will not compromise care.

Practices are also urged to ensure they follow NHS guidance on handling complaints, treat complaints professionally, offer full apologies when mistakes occur and learn from mistakes.

The report also calls for LMCs and CCGs to share lessons from mistakes across local areas.

GP complaints

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: 'The 31% uphold rates for GPs is lower than for other parts of the NHS, but it is still vital that GP practices are open to feedback and complaints, in order to bring all practices up to the level of the best.

'GPs are under pressure and need support to deal with complaints. We are pleased that NHS England have committed to ensuring that all practices have staff who are trained to handle complaints, which is essential to provide a good public service.'

CQC chief inspector of general practice Professor Steve Field, said: 'This important report highlights how complaints are an opportunity for GPs and GP surgeries to learn and to improve the quality of care that they provide.

'Patients have every right to feel listened to and reassured that what they report will be acted upon. This is what they deserve and what we look for on our inspections.'

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