Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report outlines failures in care and avoidable deaths of vulnerable patients

Health lawyers at law firm Leigh Day have expressed their dismay at the findings of a report published by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The report outlines failures in care and identifies a number of cases where people died unnecessarily.

The report contains details of 121 summaries of complaints made about the NHS in England and UK government departments and their agencies.

These include the cases of three people whose deaths could have been avoided.

Health lawyer at Leigh Day, Emma Jones, acts for many families who have received inadequate and inappropriate care in hospital.  Patients represented by Emma often include vulnerable and frail elderly people whose poor care has led to their early death.

She acted for many families who loved ones who died unnecessarily in Stafford Hospital.

Common failings in the care of elderly patients include the poor provision of nutrition and fluids, failure to protect against infection, pressure sore management and failings in the proper administration of medication.

The Ombudsman’s report identifies the avoidable death of a man with learning disabilities who was admitted to hospital with abdominal pain and vomiting.  He needed special bowel care because of his disability.  Mr P died from multi-organ failure caused by intestinal obstruction.  The report found failings in communication and that medical staff did not act in line with guidance or established good practice.

The report concluded that Mr P died "after a series of failures in care and a lack of consideration for his rights as a disabled person".

Another case identified in the report relates to a man who died of a bladder infection after a routine bladder operation.  The hospital trust concerned failed in his care which led to his death, and also failed to respond to his daughter’s complaint in good time.

The Ombudsman was set up by Parliament to provide an independent complaint handling service. It made final decisions on 556 complaints during the period, of which 201 were upheld or partially upheld.

Some 80% of the investigations looked at by the Ombudsman related to the NHS in England.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

'Often people complain to us because they don't want someone else to go through what they or their loved one went through. This report shows the types of unresolved complaints we receive and the human cost of that poor service and complaint handling.

'Many of the complaints that come to us should have been resolved by the organisation complained about.

'Complaints provide an opportunity for learning and improvements and should be embraced at all levels of the organisation from the Board to the frontline.'

Health lawyer Emma Jones of Leigh Day said:

“Robert Francis criticised the complaints system at Mid Staffs in his 2010 report when he referred to complaints disappearing into a “black hole”.

“If complaints were taken seriously and candid responses provided not only would this benefit the family, it would allow hospital Trusts to identify areas of risk and take step to tackle the risks.

“We act for clients who are complaining about similar failings within a Trust spanning a number of years because the risks identified within the complaint have not been addressed.”

Medical negligence partner at Leigh Day, Nicola Wainwright added:

“The human cost of mistakes in medical care and the failure of doctors and hospitals to deal properly with complaints arising from those mistakes are exactly what all those involved in healthcare should be focussed on.

“The government should improve care and the complaints process instead of criticising and restricting the rights of those who suffer injuries as a result of substandard care as they are currently attempting to do.  In that way the unnecessary deaths the Ombudsman refers to could be avoided.”