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Providers urged to help older people speak up about poor care

Majority of patients over 65 will not complain about care for fear of repercussion

NHS providers should make older patients aware of how to complain about the care they receive – and make it clear that speaking out will not compromise their future care.

The recommendation comes from a parliamentary and health service ombudsman report called Breaking down the barriers, which found older people fear speaking out about failings in their care because they do not know who to turn to, or they worry about repercussions.

More than half of those aged 65 and over who had experienced a problem but had not complained, were worried about the effect complaining might have on their future treatment. Almost one in five people over the age of 75 did not know how to raise a complaint about the NHS or a social care provider.

Among those over the age of 65 who were unhappy with a service, but had not complained, more than a third believed complaining would not make a difference. Less than a third of the older people surveyed could recall being offered support in making a complaint.

The report – based on a survey by the charity Independent Age, as well as focus groups and a review of unresolved ombudsman complaints – expresses surprise at the findings.

Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: ‘Reluctance to complain could mean suffering in silence and lead to missed opportunities to improve the service for others.

‘We want older people to be confident to speak up when things go wrong to help prevent someone else from going through the same ordeal.’

It is recommended all care providers use the ombudsman's own ‘My Expectations for raising concerns and complaints’ guidelines, especially when it comes to measuring the effect on patients’ own rating of their care.

The Alzheimer’s Society said its work shows people with dementia are most likely to struggle to communicate their needs and engage in formal complaints process.

Head of policy and public affairs George McNamara said: ‘These findings are deeply worrying. The idea older people are afraid to complain about bad practice or poor service means many will be suffering in silence.

‘Thousands of older people, many with dementia, use the NHS and care services on a daily basis and we need a system that works for them. Better support, as well as information must be easily accessible at the point of use and no one should be in fear of the repercussions of lodging a legitimate concern.’

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