Record 225,000 written complaints made about ailing NHS

Struggling NHS gets more complaints than ever before: Record 225,000 written grievances were made about ailing health service last year

  • There were more than 225,000 written complaints about the NHS in the last year
  • The most complained about areas were communication and clinical treatment
  • It comes as pressures piles on the NHS as it faces its ‘toughest winter ever’  

Patients are complaining about the NHS more than ever, official figures revealed today.

More than 225,000 written grievances were penned about England’s ailing health service in 2021/22.

This is up from nearly 210,000 in the year before Covid struck and little more than 160,000 in 2011/12, when records began.

Communications, clinical treatment, staff attitude and behaviour, and patient care were the areas most complained about.

It comes amid huge pressures in the NHS, which is gearing up to face its ‘toughest ever winter’.

Backlogs have amassed to all-time highs, with performances in A&E and ambulance response times diving to record lows.

More than 225,000 written complaints were penned about the ailing health service in 2021/22

The looming threat of strikes and a ‘tripledemic’ of Covid, flu and other seasonal viruses could pile even more misery on the health service this winter.

The total number of NHS complaints made has been creeping up every year, with the exception of 2015/16 and 2020/21.

Last year’s fall is partly down to hospitals doing less admin during the pandemic.

GPs and dentists made up the bulk of all written complaints (120k), with the other 105k relating to hospitals and community health services. 

Communication was the most complained about area for hospitals, making up 17.4 per cent of all grievances. 

For primary care, clinical treatment and errors received the most complaints. This made up 15.4 per cent of all GP and dental complaints. 

New ambulance data for October shows emergency services are collapsing even before the predicted busy winter period.

The data shows paramedics couldn’t respond to a quarter of 999 calls last month, a record figure, because they were stuck outside hospitals unable to offload patients. 

This contributed to an estimated 5,000 patients in England potentially suffering ‘severe harm’ as a result of ambulance delays, another grim record. 

Senior ambulance officers said patients were dying every day due to delays, and the emergency could no longer perform its role as a ‘safety net’ for people needing urgent help. 

Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), which represents the heads of England’s 10 ambulance services told the Guardian: ‘The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is being severely compromised by these unnecessary delays and patients are dying and coming to harm as a result on a daily basis.’

Data collected by AACE shows 169,000 hours of ambulance crews time was lost in October due to delays handing over patients. 

The lost time meant paramedics could not answer 135,000 calls, which represented 23 per cent of the services’ total capacity to respond to emergencies. 

Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB union, which represents 15,000 staff in English ambulance services said the data showed a service in ‘meltdown’.  

‘These figures show that it is on its knees and close to collapse as a result of vacancies, underfunding, morale being at a very low ebb and demand for ambulance care having doubled to 14m calls a year since 2010,’ she said.

The data also recorded the average handover time for ambulance crews to A&E in October was 42 minutes, up 12 minutes in October 2021’s figure.

Additionally the total number of one, two, three and 10-hour handovers was the highest ever recorded.

The attitude and behaviour of staff was also commonly criticised, being the focus of 10.6 per cent of hospital complaints and 11.4 per cent of GP and dental complaints. 

For hospitals, complaints about the standard of patient care, including nutrition and hydration, made up 12.7 per cent of all submitted. 

Communication also did not fair well for GP and dental, accounting for the second highest percentage (13.2) of all complaints. 

Another commonly complained about area included the availability and length of GP and dental appointments.

It comes as damning figures today revealed winter chaos has hit the NHS earlier than ever, with flu admissions already 10 times higher than last year.

Influenza levels in hospitals are already twice as high as last winter’s peak.

Bed occupancy rates are already close to the 95 per cent mark, giving NHS trusts little room to cope with seasonal pressures expected in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, thousands of patients being taken to hospital in an ambulance are being forced to wait at least an hour before handed over. Experts have described the ailing service as being in ‘meltdown’.

The data laying bare the dire state of the NHS comes from the first winter situation report for the season.

Officials warned it was a sign the health service is facing its ‘most challenging winter ever’.

An average of 344 beds were occupied by flu patients in England each day from November 14 to 20.

This is more than 10 times the level seen at the start of December in 2021, when an average of 31 patients were being treated for flu each day.

Last year’s numbers, which were predicted to be high after the Covid lockdowns blunted our immunity to the seasonal menace, only peaked at about 140.

Ambulance handovers also continue to suffer, with one in 10 patients arriving at hospital stuck having to wait over an hour to be handed over as medics struggle to find them a bed.

Just over 10,000 patients had to wait over an hour before they could be off-loaded by paramedics.

This compares to just 8,300 in the first week of winter data last year, and only 3,200 patients in 2019, the most recent data before the pandemic.

Ambulances being stuck at hospitals waiting to hand over patients is one factor contributing to dangerous waits for emergencies like heart attacks.

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