Elderly 'Too Polite' To Complain About NHS

Leading Health Watchdog Says Many Older People Are Too Polite To Complain About NHS

10.04.2014

Tens of thousands of older people are suffering in silence because they are not complaining about poor service on the NHS, according to England's health watchdog.

Dame Julie Mellor, who is the parliamentary and health service ombudsman, said many elderly people can be too frightened or too polite to raise concerns over their treatment.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, the watchdog said many old people fear negative repercussions when they make a complaint and simply don't want to make a fuss if they think something is going wrong with their care.

Even though pensioners receive half of all NHS care, only one third of complaints the Dame receives are from people in this age group, which shows that many are unwilling to share their concerns.

"Only with a significant change in attitudes towards complaints and a drive to reforming the complaints system will the NHS make the improvements it needs," Dame Julie added.

"There are common themes running through complaints about the care of older people. Misdiagnosis, staff attitudes, poor communication with patients and families, substandard nutrition, and patients not being treated with dignity, just to name a few."

But it isn't just manners that get in the way of older people complaining.

According to Dame Julie, many pensioners simply don't know how to carry out a formal complaint, with as many as 50 per cent of those seen by the NHS unaware of how an issue can be escalated.

This is an issue that charity Age UK has long campaigned on, and director Caroline Abrahams commented that it is "not acceptable" that elderly people are denied adequate nutrition or hydration on the NHS.

Anyone who does not feel their complaint has been properly dealt with by the NHS should escalate it to an ombudsman.

Doctors and nurses should be trained in helping patients do this and are duty-bound to provide information to assist the complaints process.

Expert Opinion
The NHS complaints process is vital in ensuring any systemic failures or shortcomings in care within the health service are investigated and rectified to protect patient safety.

“Pensioners must be given thorough information on how to lodge a complaint as well as provided with reassurance that it will be dealt with sensitively and appropriately.

“Doctors and nurses must be open and transparent when an individual’s care falls below what should be expected and part of this process should include advising patients of the options available to make a complaint.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner