Rules will be tightened to force foundation trusts to pass on patients’ complaints to the government, the Department of Health has revealed to HSJ.

It announced the policy change after figures released today revealed FTs are increasingly failing to report patients’ complaints, restricting the government’s ability to gauge overall satisfaction with NHS performance.

Most NHS bodies report data on the written complaints they received during the financial year to the Information Centre. It analyses them, noting the reason for the complaint, how it was settled and which staff groups were concerned.

Although most FTs are not required to submit information on written complaints although most have done so on a voluntary basis. However, NHS Information Centre figures show the number of FTs opting not to submit complaints rose by more than 60 per cent in a year, with 29 of the 137 FTs choosing not to submit data in 2010-11, compared to 18 in 2009-10.

  • See below for a list of FTs not submitting data

The data showed a fall in the total number of complaints across the NHS from the previous year. But analysis of figures for organisations submitting data in both years shows complaints rose by 0.3 per cent.

A Department of Health spokesman told HSJ the DH recognised that “something needs to be done” about voluntary reporting for FTs.

He said: “Making more information available to patients and the public is essential to inform choice and drive improvements in the quality of care. We will be discussing with Monitor how to ensure that all foundation trusts contribute data on complaints in the future.”

Speaking before the DH made its announcement, Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said: “You cannot have individual organisations picking and choosing what information they will and won’t feedback.

“This issue strikes at the heart of this government’s agenda for reform. The current plan is for all trusts to become foundation trusts and gain ‘independence’. You can have local management, local involvement, local anything you want. But if local people do not have access to data to enable them to make comparisons then it is a waste of time.”

Action Against Medical Accidents deputy chief executive Hugh Williams said: “Foundation trusts are meant to be flagships for the NHS. It is important they share information so service can be improved, having an overview of complaints is part of that process.”

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan called on FTs to report complaints “so that future reports can tell the complex story based on information from every trust”.

Labour MP and member of the Commons health committee Rosie Cooper said allowing FTs to not report complaints “sends completely the wrong message to the NHS”. She said: “Foundation trusts need to realise they are not a law unto themselves… If they are not made to reveal all, then this is a fraud against the taxpayer.”

Foundation Trust Network chief executive of the Sue Slipman said the body’s expectation was that all FTs made information about complaints available “either via the governors who are the public conduit for accountability to the public and their patients, or through annual reports and quality accounts”.

“As FTs are independent organisations they are not under any obligation to report to the Department of Health on this matter, and have therefore not withheld information,” she said.

Foundation Trusts that did not submit complaints data in 2010-11 only

  • Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • North East London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dudley Group Of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospital Of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Foundation Trusts that have not submitted data in the last two years

  • Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust
  • Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust
  • Basingstoke and North Hampshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal National Hospital For Rheumatic Diseases NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Source: NHS Information Centre