Complaints about health care in Lancashire have soared by nearly 800 per cent since records began.
In the last full year, from 2013-14, health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) received 471 complaints about the region’s hospitals, dentists, GP surgeries, care homes and mental health provision, putting the area fourth highest nationally.
The latest figures for 2014-15 again show Lancashire has the fourth highest number of complaints at 379 – a huge rise on 54 complaints during 2010-11.
So far this year there have also been 179 cases of Lancashire health staff whistle-blowing about concerns – the highest number since the CQC launched a specialist complaint-tracking team in 2010-11 – and again, one of the highest numbers in the country. Last year there were 305 whistle-blowing episodes in the county, compared to seven in 2010-11.
A CQC spokesman said: “It is difficult to say with confidence why there has been a rise in people coming to the CQC with complaints about health and adult social care services.
“However, we believe that a significant reason will be because there is increased public awareness about us.
“Our focus continues to be on interpreting this important information, passing it on to other bodies as appropriate, and deciding whether regulatory action is needed.”
Paul Simic, chief executive of Lancashire Care Association, said the figures were not surprising and should not be “crudely taken as a measure of poor care”. He added: “Listening to people’s complaints, and responding to them properly, is an important part of good quality care. They are not something to be feared or rejected.
“The figures relating to CQC complaints are raw numbers not per (head of population) so it is difficult to interpret them, but as LCC is the fourth largest authority in the country, other things being equal, one would expect it to rank towards the top of the tables as appears to be the case.
“The issue is whether there is a higher level of complaints than would be expected given the size of the authority which, at a glance, doesn’t seem to be the case.”
He added: “It is important to say that complaints (and compliments) and ‘whistle-blowing’ are part of an open culture and, post-Francis report, we look towards a transparent culture of care working in the best interests of patients and customers.
“Good providers work to encourage high expectations in service users and openness in staff so complaints, properly handled, can be part of an excellence culture. They are not to be crudely taken as a measure of poor care. The lack of recorded complaints may be a better measure.
“It is what you do with complaints that is important.”
Gill Brown, Healthwatch Lancashire Chief Executive, said she took it as a positive thing that people felt their worries would be listened to.
She said: “Healthwatch Lancashire welcomes the fact that more people have felt able to raise their concerns on local health and social care services, as listening to patients is one of the best ways to improve quality and standards.”
In a report issued last week, the CQC also found that there was wide variation in the way complaints are handled across the NHS, primary care and adult social care services in England, with complainants to individual bodies being met too often with a defensive culture rather than one that listens and is willing to learn.
Although the regulator found examples of good practice, it said more needed to be done to encourage people to come forward with their complaints, to keep them informed on the progress, to reassure them that action will be taken as a result, and to assess that whether they are satisfied with how it has been resolved.
Prof Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the Care Quality Commission, said: “More needs to be done to encourage an open culture where concerns are welcomed and learned from.
“Through our inspections, we have a big role to play in supporting this change. We will continue to hold health and adult social care services to the high standards that people both expect and deserve.”