Patients complain 23,000 times to the HSE

The HSE received more than 23,000 formal complaints about the health service in 2016. The main issues raised included access, dignity and respect, safe and effective care, communication, and clinical judgement.

The complaints relate to hospitals and community healthcare organisations, as well as the National Ambulance Service and Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS).

Statutory hospitals, which are managed directly by the HSE, accounted for 5,019 of the complaints received in 2016; while voluntary hospitals, which are publicly funded but run by voluntary organisations, received 7,104 complaints. Community Healthcare Organisations (CHOs), which are responsible for the delivery of primary care, social care and disability services, were the subject of 3,984 complaints.

A total of 92 complaints were made about the National Ambulance Service, while the PCRS, which is responsible for making payments to healthcare professionals in respect of public services, attracted 63 complaints — all of which related to communication.

The statutory hospital group with the most complaints was Saolta, which runs seven hospitals in the west and northwest, including University Hospital Galway (UHG) and Mayo General Hospital. The group received 1,310 formal complaints in 2016.

Ireland East Hospital Group, which includes St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, received 1,253 complaints. The South/South-West Hospital Group, which includes Cork University Hospital, was the subject of 1,033 complaints.

The most common ground for complaints against statutory hospitals was a failure to provide safe and effective care, which was the basis of almost 51% of complaints.

Problems with access, such as delays or cancellations, were a basis for nearly 28% of complaints against statutory hospitals. More than a third of these related to the Saolta hospital group.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal some confusion and concern within the HSE over the accuracy of the complaints data.

The Quality Improvement Division, which was responsible for gathering the records, claimed no complaints figures had been returned by the HSE West area in 2016.

This was disputed by the regional manager in Galway, who provided national totals that included figures for the western region. However, he said he could not provide specific records for the west due to structural changes in the HSE.

Internal emails also reveal a level of difficulty in compiling the figures. One official in the HSE Consumer Affairs Department wrote to a colleague: “I’m attaching the statistics and praying to god [sic] I have them right. They are absolutely melting my head at this stage. It is a nightmare to get them in and then collate what does arrive and no one to bounce them off to make sure they are even correct.”

In a separate email, the same official was queried about data suggesting that there were no complaints received by certain acute hospitals in the southern region.

In response, she wrote: “There was a couple further to add (I hope iv [sic] done this right!!)”

When the HSE was contacted for comment, it requested a copy of the data that had been obtained, and undertook to examine this with a view to providing a statement. No further response was received.

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