Which? uncovers blips when it comes to private healthcare complaints

Which? has found that, when it comes to complaining about healthcare, private patients don’t have the same options and support as NHS patients.

Although only one in 20 private patients felt they had cause for complaint, 45 per cent of those who had formally complained were dissatisfied with the outcome. 40 per cent didn’t think things would improve as a result of the complaint, and 38 per cent were dissatisfied with the level of support they received in making the complaint.

This is compounded by the fact that private patients do not have routine independent advice and support even with higher risk services such as surgery. Some voluntary complaints investigation scheme for private healthcare do exist, such as the UK-wide Independent Healthcare Advisory Services, but not all organisations join such a scheme.

Which? article is misleading, according to Independent Healthcare Advisory Services

Private Healthcare UK received a response to the above news item written by Sally Taber of Independent Healthcare Advisory Services. She felt that the article was misleading as it referred to the unregulated sector. Her response is published below to add balance to this news item.

Misleading the public – A query about Which?

Which? campaigns on behalf of consumers.  Often well targeted at excesses in the capitalist world, its November 2009 article entitled “Health Complaints” has veered off the mark so far as to seriously mislead its readership.

“….when it comes to complaining about healthcare, private patients don’t have the same options and support as NHS patients” is how it heads its article.  It then proceeds to compound beauty salons with healthcare, and compare the wide range of different cosmetic and health providers with the National Health Service, to produce a mish mash of half digested comment designed to disquiet potential patients.

It is time to set the record straight for the large independent acute sector, where complaints are handled to the recognized highest standards – approved by the Care Quality Commission.

All the independent acute healthcare providers in the UK subscribe the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service.  They abide by a detailed Independent Sector Code of Practice for Management of Patient Complaints which sets out in detail how complaints are to be managed.

The Code has three stages at which a complaint is heard and satisfied if possible.

  1. Local Resolution at the hospital or clinic
  2. Internal Appeal from the local offer to the Head Office
  3. Independent External Adjudication where the complaint has still not been resolved

Key principles of the Code are:

  • accessibility
  • impartiality
  • simplicity
  • speed of resolution and redress
  • confidentiality
  • improvement in quality of Patient care

Throughout the process the patient is given information and advice on how to proceed – every hospital has a manager nominated for this task.  Information about how to complain is freely available on site and on the web. Independent advice is offered by telephone from ISCAS if required.  Unsatisfied complainants are offered independent external adjudication which can result in an offer of an ex gratia award in recognition of distress and inconvenience.  This process does not remove the right to take an issue to court.

It would be commercially folly for independent acute healthcare providers not to take complaints seriously, and resolve them expeditiously, preferably before they reach the formal complaint stage.  This they do, as the figures show.  Of all 3.3 million patients who attended at one of the 460 independent acute or mental health hospitals in England and Scotland in 2008, two in a thousand complained at the hospital (8 in a thousand in Wales).  Most complaints were resolved to the patients satisfaction by the healthcare provider.  Of those that could not, 26 complaints went to external adjudication. Of those, eight continued to pursue their case after the adjudication.

Few sectors of the consumer world could boast such a good record, - far removed from the Which? Report’s remark about a high level of dissatisfaction.  Who is misleading the public here?

The acute and mental health sectors are regulated to meet demanding standards, and routinely exceed them.  The non-surgical cosmetic treatment sector, where regulation, if any, is haphazard and piecemeal, has seen the government abandon any attempt to impose regulation for the safety of patients in favour of shared regulation with the industry.  IHAS, with its excellent track record with ISCAS, was chosen to lead in the setting of standards to be met by providers – very disparate industry with highly variable standards of training, equipment and facilities meeting a wildly expanding demand from consumers – and making good profits.  IHAS has already created industry-agreed standards for training and the use of drugs and dermal fillers, and will soon create a quality standard for non-surgical cosmetic treatment recognizable by consumers everywhere, and incorporating methods for the resolution of complaints.  The scheme awaits the arrival of funds before telling the consumer world what to look for in terms of high quality cosmetic treatment – the quality mark will lead to safe, satisfactory cosmetic work for all aware consumers. 


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