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HSE complaints to Ombudsman up by 44%
[Posted: Thu 09/06/2011 by Deborah Condon www.irishhealth.com]
The number of complaints made about the HSE to the Office of the Ombudsman jumped by 44% last year, a new report has shown.
According to the Ombudsman Annual Report 2010, a total of 3,727 complaints were made to the office last year, an increase of 30% on 2009's figure and the highest number of complaints recorded in over 10 years.
Of these, 1,088 were complaints about the HSE. This marked a 44% increase on the number of complaints made in 2009. It also means that complaints about the HSE made up 27% of all complaints received by the Ombudsman in 2010.
Complaints against other public bodies also saw a major increase, with the civil service recording a 39% increase and local authorities recording a 14% increase when compared to 2009.
The Department of Social Protection meanwhile saw a jump in complaints of 53% last year.
"It is evident from the huge upsurge in complaints made to me in 2010 - a new record high - that growing numbers of people are experiencing difficulties with our public services, especially with unemployment and benefits.
"The rise of 53% in complaints received about the Department of Social Protection in 2010 over 2009 - 1,181 as compared with 772 - comes as no surprise, given our economic situation. Clearly, people are engaging more with public bodies, but this should not lead to lower standards or people being unfairly treated," the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, commented.
She said that the fact that the number of complaints is continuing to grow every year ‘underlines the demanding task before us to raise standards of public service across the board'.
The report included a number of case studies, including one which centred on a complaint made by a widow about the care and treatment her husband had received at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital.
The woman's husband had died unexpectedly at the hospital having been diagnosed and treated for cancer in 2008. She had complained about a range of care and treatment issues, all of which were addressed by the Ombudsman's office with hospital staff.
However, a number of key issues had remained unresolved to her satisfaction, namely the lack of support for the family following the man's death, together with the manner in which the family themselves had to ask for a priest to be called to administer the last rites following his death. The woman also had concerns about the fact that no hospital post-mortem was offered or conducted to establish the cause of his sudden death.
Ombudsman staff met with representatives from Beaumont Hospital to discuss these issues and the hospital agreed to review them and bring them to the attention of the appropriate committees and staff within the hospital.
The hospital accepted that the complaint had highlighted weaknesses within its administration and particularly in relation to the quality of standards around end-of-life care. The hospital said that at the time of the man's death, the ward was extremely busy with other seriously ill patients, and that nursing staff, while aware of the protocol for caring for deceased patients, were delayed in contacting the priest on-call as they were attending to the needs of another patient.
Following the Ombudsman's intervention, the hospital apologised to the family for the considerable distress and upset caused to them.
"The hospital told me that, in conjunction with the Hospice Friendly Hospital (HFH) programme, it was continuously striving to improve the quality of services for patients and their families and to make end-of-life care central to the work of the hospital. It acknowledged that on-going training was required for hospital staff so that they are aware of the need to deal with relatives at the time of death with compassion and empathy," Ms O'Reilly explained.
In relation to the post-mortem, the Ombudsman was told that although the man's death was sudden, it had occurred after a prolonged and terminal illness and did not fit the criteria for a ‘coroner's post-mortem'. However, in a letter to the complainant, the medical consultant involved apologised for the fact that a ‘hospital post-mortem' had not been requested in respect of her late husband as it would have helped to establish the reason why his cardiac function deteriorated so quickly.
"The hospital accepted that communication should have taken place with the family at that time regarding the option of a hospital post-mortem. Beaumont Hospital undertook to review and amend the current guidelines for medical doctors following the death of a patient to include guidelines for speaking to families in relation to the options for a house post-mortem," Ms O'Reilly noted.
This latest annual report marks Ms O'Reilly's eighth annual report as Ombudsman and the 27th since the Office was established in 1984.
"The Ombudsman complaints service is for everyone who needs it, to use free of charge. Since 1984, we have helped over 76,000 people with valid complaints. It is a proud record of achievement. We continue to adapt to changed economic and social circumstances in our efforts to give the best possible service to an increasing number of complainants, within existing resources," Ms O'Reilly said.
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