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Older patients ‘suffer in silence’ when care goes wrong, says ombudsman

Too many older people are ‘suffering in silence’ when things go wrong with their NHS care, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has said.
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Too many older people are 'suffering in silence' when things go wrong with their NHS care, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has said.

Older people often rely on relatives to raise concerns when things go wrong with hospital care, the ombudsman said, but a new survey found that some family members find it difficult to do so.

In the survey, relatives of older hospital patients raised a number of concerns over care including an older male patient having to dial 999 after a fall in his hospital room.

The NHS needs to make clear to patients that their care will not be compromised if they or a relative make a complaint, the ombudsman said.

Compelled to complain

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Too many older people are 'suffering in silence' when things go wrong with their NHS care, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has said.

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There are far fewer complaints from older people than expected given their
high usage of NHS services, the ombudsman said. Picture: iStock

Older people often rely on relatives to raise concerns when things go wrong with hospital care, the ombudsman said, but a new survey found that some family members find it difficult to do so.

In the survey, relatives of older hospital patients raised a number of concerns over care including an older male patient having to dial 999 after a fall in his hospital room.

The NHS needs to make clear to patients that their care will not be compromised if they or a relative make a complaint, the ombudsman said.

Compelled to complain

The ombudsman and the website Gransnet surveyed 600 people who had an older family member who had stayed in hospital overnight in the past year.

The organisations found that more than one in three, or 35%, said there were times when they were concerned about the care or treatment of an older relative in hospital.

Of these, 58% said they felt compelled to complain.

Among those who had raised concerns, half said it was 'difficult' to complain and only 37% said they felt their concern was listened to and taken seriously.

Worried about impact

Only 27% said they felt their complaint made a difference.

Among those who said they were concerned about care but did not complain, 19% said they were worried about the impact that complaining would have on the care and treatment of their relative.

One-third said they did not complain because they did not think anything would change, while 6% said they did not know how.

Relatives also provided brief descriptions about their concerns over care. One wrote: 'After a fall my husband had to call 999 for help. In his hospital room! No one came. Lay on the floor for 75 minutes in agony before a doctor could be found.'

Lifeline for vulnerable

The ombudsman said there are far fewer complaints from older people than would be expected given their high usage of NHS services.

A previous report from the ombudsman said many older people are afraid to raise the alarm when something goes wrong in their care and worry about what will happen to them if they do.

'The NHS is a lifeline for many vulnerable older people, but when things go wrong too many are suffering in silence,' said ombudsman Rob Behrens.

'I want people to be confident to complain, know their rights and speak up when things go wrong so that the NHS can learn from mistakes and improve services for others.'

Important to listen

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We are determined to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, but when things do go wrong it's incredibly important to listen to patients' and families' complaints or wider feedback.

'By learning from mistakes we can improve care. This is why we made complaints handling a crucial element of the hospital inspection regime.

'These findings show more could be done to help older people and families complain.'


Further information

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