Letters

Your reference to the health service commissioner's annual report (News, page 6, 25 June), correctly stated that he had criticised this trust for taking issue with the findings of an independent review panel.

Unfortunately, your report went on to say that by not accepting the recommendations of the panel we had destroyed the purpose of the panel process. This is incorrect.

Guidance on the NHS complaints procedure makes it clear that a chief executive of a trust or health authority is not obliged to take action on 'suggestions' from an independent review panel, but must indicate the reasons for that decision.

In the case that came before the commissioner, the trust had not felt able to implement/act on all of the recommendations from the panel.

The letter which subsequently went to the complainants, and to which the commissioner objected, indicated in some detail why we felt unable to implement all the recommendations as we had difficulty with some of the findings.

It was determined that we had contravened the spirit of the independent review panel stage by disputing the findings.

The trust subsequently had a most constructive and helpful meeting with Isabel Nisbet, the deputy health service commissioner, who acknowledged that, in attempting to be honest and open with the complainants, the trust had unwittingly contravened the secretary of state's directions.

However, it is apparent that the NHS Executive's guidance on the complaints system and the statutory guidance use different language to describe how a chief executive should respond to an independent review panel report, and neither indicate that the findings cannot be disputed.

The health service commissioner has usefully created 'case law' here by clarifying this important point. As a result, one would hope that the national guidance can be suitably amended.

Stephen J Ashcroft Chief executive Preston Acute Hospitals trust

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