3,000+ complaints to Ombudsman in 2017

Hundreds of health-related complaints
  • Deborah Condon

A woman with diabetes who risked having her toes amputated because of delays in her treatment, had the issue resolved after complaining to the Ombudsman.

Hers is just one of 3,021 complaints made to the Office of the Ombudsman about providers of public services in 2017. The details are contained in the Ombudsman's Annual Report 2017, which has just been published.

The sectors that were most complained about during the year were government departments/offices (953 complaints), local authorities (852) and the health and social care sector (608).

In the case of the woman with diabetes, she had made a complaint to the Ombudsman when she experienced delays in regular check-ups she required for her feet.

The woman had diabetes and was at risk of having her toes amputated if left unchecked. It had been six months since her last appointment when she complained to the Ombudsman. She said that she had received a letter stating that she would not be offered an appointment for the foreseeable future.

The HSE told the Ombudsman that a failure to update the woman's computer records after her last assessment resulted in her being classed as a ‘low risk' patient. This was why no further appointment had been made.

The HSE arranged an immediate appointment for the woman and apologised to her for the mix-up. The Ombudsman was satisfied with this outcome.

Another case that was highlighted by the Annual Report was that of ‘social charges' in a nursing home. A man had complained on behalf of his parents when their nursing home doubled the charge for its ‘social programme', from €86 per month to €173.

Social charges cover recreational activities for residents, such as creative classes, tours and other entertainment. These charges are not covered by the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Fair Deal) and so they should be set out and agreed with each resident in their ‘contract for care'.

In this case, the nursing home said that the doubling of the charge was necessary as the previous year's programme had run at a loss and it needed to increase fees to allow for increased social activities. However, the contract for care listed only an overall charge for ‘entertainment' and gave no breakdown of what was involved.

The Ombudsman considered that the contract did not comply with the regulations. It should set out the content of the social programme and residents should have an input into the type of activities in their nursing home. Residents should also be able to opt out of paying for activities that they cannot avail of.

Following the intervention by the Ombudsman, the nursing home introduced a new and more detailed contract of care, which included a breakdown of the social charges. This allowed for more transparency for existing residents and enabled new residents to understand what they were signing up to on admission.

Importantly, residents who do not have the capacity to take part in the social programme will now only be charged a nominal fee. Residents capable of attending all social activities will however still be fully charged. Meanwhile, resident input into the content and design of the social programme will be sought in the future, especially when an increase in activities (with an associated cost implication) is being considered.

This was just one of 63 complaints about private nursing homes that was made to the Ombudsman. The report noted that the number of complaints about private nursing homes had more than doubled, from 30 in 2016.

Meanwhile, the report also highlighted that this was the first year of dealing with complaints from refugees and asylum seekers living in Direct Provision. A total of 115 complaints were received.

"Many of these were about transfers to other centres or accommodation issues. We have an ongoing programme of visits to all accommodation centres and resolve many complaints informally on the ground," the report stated.

The Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, described 2017 as ‘a highly productive year'. He noted that while some complaints can be about ‘individual issues', they can ‘sometimes reveal problems that are likely to impact on many other people'.

"These complaints can then spark wider investigations to establish if others have been affected. If they have then we need to see what steps are needed to put things right, not just for people who have complained to my Office, but for all those who have been affected. We need to make sure that the same issues do not affect other people in the future," he said.

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