Patients on the Fylde coast wrote hundreds of letters of complaint to health chiefs last year, new figures reveal.
Across Lancashire, health trusts received more than 5,000 written complaints last year – a hike of almost 15 per cent.
The county had the biggest increase in complaints about care, statistics by NHS Digital revealed, with a total of 208,400 written complaints made nationally, up 4.9 per cent on the previous year and an average of 480 per day.
Of the 2,938 complaints in Lancashire relating to hospital and community health care – the other 2,359 were about dental and GP services – 415 were sent to Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
While the trust received more than one complaint a day, it deals with more than 1,500 patients a day on average – and its complaints figures have not gone up significantly.
Lancashire Care, responsible for mental health care and community nursing across the county, had the most, which it said was because it had made it easier for patients to voice their discontent.
It saw complaints rise by a third to 1.397.
Fleetwood and Lancaster’s Labour MP Cat Smith said the figures were not a reflection on ‘hardworking NHS staff’ and pointed the finger of blame at the government.
She said: “Increasingly staff are working harder and harder with less resources and fewer colleagues to assist them. However, the timing of this news couldn’t be more worrying.
“The Conservatives’ under-funding of the NHS has caused chaos for patients and even in the height of summer, key targets are being missed and waiting list numbers are rising.
“There is a real danger to patients unless the government takes urgent action to support the NHS through the extra winter pressures.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys’ Tory MP Paul Maynard said: “Blackpool Victoria Hospital is among the busiest in the North West and it is testament to the hard work and dedication of the staff there, and at our primary care trusts, that the number of complaints remains so low in proportion to the number of patients seen.
“The most significant increase in complaints comes from Lancashire Care NHS Trust. I am interested to hear what explanation the Trust has given for the rise. It is important to reserve judgement until we are in possession of all of the facts.
“The increased demand on mental health services is becoming very apparent and I am hoping, in the coming months, to speak to those on the front line of tackling this issue about the problems they face and long term solutions that can be put in place.”
What do the figures say?
The figures, released on a huge spreadsheet by NHS Digital, go into extensive detail.
Boiled down, they show that Lancashire had 4,514 written complaints in 2014/15, 4,621 in 2015/16, and 5,297 last year.
The county’s trusts heard fewer grumbles than any other area – London had the most with 37,192 – but the increase of 14.6 per cent last year compared to the year before was the highest.
There was a 14.3 per cent rise in complaints about ‘hospitals and community health services’ (2,570 in ‘15/16 to 2,938 last year), and a 15 per cent rise in complaints about GPs and dentists (2,051 in ‘15/16 to 2,359 last year).
Most complaints in Lancashire related to communication rather than treatment, with patient care, including nutrition and hydration, the second most common criticism.
The behaviour of staff was also a common gripe, while delayed or cancelled appointments also attracted hundreds of complaints. Some 163 people moaned about waiting times.
The people most likely to complain both nationally and in Lancashire are adults between 26 and 55. Patients lodged their own complaints almost half the time, with one in 10 complaints being made by parents.
At 28.9 per cent, most of the complaints related to inpatient services, when people are admitted to hospital, followed by outpatient services (23 per cent), mental health (10.5 per cent), emergency services (8.8 per cent), and ambulance services (8.2 per cent).Complaints about maternity units made up just 2.9 per cent.
Last year, there were 1,068 complaints made against GPs, but administration staff, including receptionists, attracted a further 722.
What are other people saying?
A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We work hard to ensure we offer the best services for patients and we welcome all formal and informal feedback, whether positive or critical, and look into each one individually so we can respond to any issues that have been raised.
“We listen and use the lessons learned to continually improve our services. We deal with more than 560,000 patient contacts each year and the complaint rate is 0.074 per cent.
“The Trust received 4,024 compliments last year.”
Fylde and Wyre CCG said its 16 complaints related to continuing healthcare, mental health, and independent funding requests, used when patients believe a particular treatment or service not routinely offered could be the best treatment for them.
And Parliamentary and health service ombudsman, Robert Behrens, said: “The NHS provides high-quality care to millions of people every year but unfortunately we still see a wide variation in the quality of NHS complaint handling.
“Far too many complaints come to us that could have been resolved by the NHS, leaving people waiting too long for answers and delaying important improvements.”
Why is Blackpool CCG the odd one out?
Blackpool CCG, responsible for organising and paying for healthcare in the resort, said a review had led to work being done to ‘clarify the process for raising concerns and complaints about the various NHS services’.
This meant, it said, the complaints were being logged against the right service rather than being referred on – with Blackpool CCG seeing fewer complaints as a result. It was the only service in the county to note a fall last year.
It added: “The CCG has also undertaken a number of engagement sessions throughout 2016/17 to ensure the general public has the opportunity to voice their concerns prior to the implementation of any changes to services.”
It said it couldn’t go into the exact nature of complaints, but said: “Themes that were identified were around access to appointments and waiting times and commissioning activities, which covers things like prescribing and commissioning of services.”