The Commons Health Committee has issued its report on complaints and litigation.

In short, the report concludes that the legal framework of the Health Service Ombudsman should be widened to enable her to review any complaint referred to her following rejection by a service provider. Currently she can only launch a formal investigation if she is satisfied in advance that there will be a “worthwhile outcome”. The report also found that there is an “unacceptably” wide variation in the operation of complaints procedures within the NHS.

The committee’s enquiry found:

  • there is no national protocol for classification of reporting of complaints and reporting by foundation trusts is voluntary;
  • it is unclear how complaints delivered by primary care providers will be handled following the introduction of the Health and Social Bill; and
  • the NHS culture is still too defensive.  

The report also recommends that all providers of NHS care should “owe a duty of candour to their commissioners” as a result of which they should provide:  

  • reports of all complaints made to them by NHS patients;
  • when complaints are upheld, complaint action plans should be implemented, as is the case with serious incidents requiring investigation (SIRIs); and
  • they should produce progress reports of actions from complaint action plans.  

The enquiry also looked at litigation and concluded that the existing system of clinical negligence offers patients the best opportunities to obtain an award of appropriate compensation and does not support a switch to no fault compensation. In addition the committee suggested that the Government needs to “tread carefully” with regard to its proposals to reduce access to legal aid for most clinical negligence cases. The committee also suggests that the regulatory framework that governs the activities of claims management companies should be reviewed because it believes that current practice hinders complaint resolution for complaints as well as increasing the cost of litigation.