Concerns about GP clinical treatment and care surrounding hospital deaths are the recurring themes of thousands of complaints sent to the Healthcare Commission.

The commission's analysis of complaints sent to them for independent review found that two-thirds of complaints against GPs centred on clinical care and treatment, including alleged failures to make accurate or timely diagnoses. Over half of complaints about hospitals related to care surrounding a death.

Safety was an issue in 22 per cent of complaints, while 30 per cent related to disagreements over fees and charges. In primary care, 15 per cent of complaints related to removal from GP lists. But just 2.5 per cent related to out-of-hours services.

The report concludes that NHS organisations need to deal with patient issues 'quickly, efficiently, and locally'. It found that poor complaints handling was a recurring theme in the 16,000 complaints referred to the commission from July 2004 to July 2006.

The commission today launches a national audit of how trusts deal with patients' concerns. It will look at performance indicators for all trusts, then inspect about 50 organisations.

Chief executive Anna Walker said: 'Complaints represent the raw feelings of patients and the NHS must listen and learn from them. Many concerns are about basic elements of healthcare such as good communication. These are not things that cost a lot of money to solve.'

Ms Walker called on NHS trust management and staff to work together to ensure that patients were treated 'as they would like to be treated themselves'.

The top five overall issues raised in patient complaints referred to the commission were:

  • safety;
  • poor communication;
  • ineffective procedures;
  • poor complaints handling;
  • dignity and respect.

The report also found that complainants to the commission wanted several improvements, including a better explanation of what went wrong; service improvements; an apology; the event acknowledged; action against staff; and the same thing not to happen again.