Published: 10/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5942 Page 22

Marcia Fry, head of operational development, Healthcare Commission

We reject your claims that we are handling complaints in a bureaucratic and non-patient centred fashion (news, page 5, 3 February).

Under the previous second-stage complaints system administered by the NHS, the only route open to patients was to request a panel. A nonexecutive director of the trust involved sat on every panel and, not surprisingly, this was not seen by complainants as sufficiently independent.

In 2002-03, while over 3,000 complaints were sent for second stage resolution, only 460 went to a panel, meaning that the others were rejected for independent review.

In comparison, the Healthcare Commission has independently reviewed over 500 in the last six months and has 250 more currently under investigation.

Your comparison between the number of panels held under the previous system and by the Healthcare Commission is inappropriate as it does not compare like with like.

We have a wider range of options available to us for resolving second stage complaints. And only in exceptional circumstances, and where all other options have been explored, do we go down the route of establishing a panel.

Resolving a complaint as quickly as possible locally is the least bureaucratic and most patient-centred approach, and therefore, where appropriate, we are referring complaints back to trusts to take further action.

While we regret that patients have had to wait longer than anticipated to have their complaints dealt with, the large number of complaints we have received is because individuals have greater confidence in our independence. And also because complaints were being held for months while there were delays in finalising the regulations.

The fact that so many complaints are being referred to us with insufficient attempt at local resolution also needs to be addressed within trusts.

It is also worth noting that, under the previous system, second-stage resolution frequently took years to complete.

We are taking every step to ensure individuals are getting a response to their complaint as quickly as possible.

We remain committed to, and indeed have already achieved, significant improvements for patients under the new second-stage NHS complaints procedure.