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Too many older people are 'suffering in silence' when things go wrong with their hospital care, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has warned.
Older vulnerable people are often reliant on relatives to raise concerns when things go wrong with hospital care, but a new survey has revealed that some family members find it difficult to raise concerns.
Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said: "The NHS is a life-line for many vulnerable older people but when things go wrong, too many are suffering in silence.
"I want people to be confident to complain, know their rights, and speak up when things go wrong so that the NHS can learn from mistakes and improve services for others.
"NHS staff should make patients and their loved ones aware of how to complain, point them to available support, and make it absolutely clear that their future care will not be compromised."
The survey, published by Gransnet and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, asked over 600 Gransnet members about their experiences of complaining to the NHS on behalf of an older relative in hospital.
Just over half of those surveyed said they have previously complained and two-thirds of those who did said it did not make a difference.
One in three in three respondents said there were occasions where they were concerned about the care or treatment of their older relative in hospital, and felt that hospital staff did not have an ‘adequate understanding’ of their older relative’s condition or care needs.
The types of issues respondents experienced included their older relative not being given enough help with their personal care needs, such as going to the bathroom and washing themselves.
The survey has also revealed wider concerns about communication with older patients and their families. Two in five participants did not feel they were kept informed about their older relative’s condition in hospital and were not given enough opportunities to discuss their care and treatment.
Poor communication is a factor in around one third of all complaints the Ombudsman service investigates about the NHS in England.
Lara Crisp, editor of Gransnet, said: "Patients deserve better than this. While we appreciate that services are stretched, communication with patients and their families must be improved. They should feel that their concerns are taken seriously and addressed properly.
"It’s simply not acceptable that over half of people with a concern feel they can’t complain or that it won’t make any difference if they do. Hospital staff need to be supported and enabled to communicate better with patients so that everyone is clear about the complaints procedure and patients are reassured that this will not affect their future care."