The number of complaint issues received by Health and Social Care (HSC) trusts has increased by over 25 per cent in the last five years, with each trust reporting an increase in the number of complaint issues received, and over one-fifth of complaint issues relating to quality of treatment and care.
From 2018/19 to 2022/23, the overall number of complaint issues received by HSC trusts increased from 6,049 to 7,671, a 26.8 per cent increase over a five-year period. Complaints have risen in each trust area in both years following 2020/21, which saw a decrease in every trust area. Given the trends both before and after 2020/21, it is likely that this decrease in total number of complaint issues was a result of less people interacting directly with health services due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
Complaint issues differ from complaints; where a complaint is defined as an “expression of dissatisfaction” received from or on behalf of people who have in some way interacted with the health service. In the case that a communication regarding such dissatisfaction contains more than one issue, each individual case is defined as a complaint issue, meaning that trusts will have more complaint issues than complaints. For example, 2022/23 saw 7,671 complaint issues arising from 5,033 complaints.
In 2022/23, over one-fifth (20.1 per cent) of complaint issues related to a patient’s quality of treatment of care, with over half (55.4 per cent) of complaint issue relating to the acute programme of care (POC), a rate that vastly outweighs that of the next POC, family and child care (9.1 per cent). The acute POC also saw the largest increase in complaint issues over the five-year period, 17.1 per cent. The highest percentage of complaint issues received (15.8 per cent) related to the accident and emergency speciality.
All six trust areas saw increases in the number of complaint issues received from 2018/19 to 2022/23, with the largest increase, 68.1 per cent, reported by the Southern Trust. Belfast Trust received almost one-third (32.1 per cent) of complaint issues in 2022/23, with the Northern Trust receiving the lowest share among the six trusts (12 per cent).
HSC policy requires a substantive response to the complainant to be issued within 20 working days of receipt of the complaint. Despite this, less than half (46 per cent) of complaints received a substantive response within 20 working days in 2022/23. The Western Trust had the highest proportion of responses within 20 working days (54 per cent), while the South Eastern Trust had the lowest (31.1 per cent).
26,474 compliments were received by HSC trusts in 2022/23, with quality of treatment and care also the largest source of compliments, accounting for 45.1 per cent.