We need to make a fuss to bring about change

Mo Farrah after missing out on a gold medal
				 Picture: Adam Davy

VERITY LUSH: Leave me to browse the make-up counter in peace

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Complaining about services is a vital tool for the public because it holds organisations to account and makes them change their attitudes or practices.

It’s a difficult thing for us in Britain to do because we’re not really a nation of complainers and we don’t want to cause a fuss.

But cause a fuss we must if things are going to change for the better.

Sadly though this country, in addition to being reticent about complaining, also doesn’t really have a cohesive complaints structure that helps people to be listened to and problems and mistakes acted on.

Therefore I very much welcomed the report last month from a parliamentary committee called More Complaints Please that urges the government to improve the complaints procedure because when things go wrong in public services they can have devastating consequences.

My constituency postbag is full of people who have fought gallantly for years for answers from authorities while dealing with those consequences, but getting nowhere.

These are people who only wanted to be listened to and have their concerns looked into and acted on.

They did not want compensation: they wanted to make sure something similar never happened to anyone else.

We have helped them as much as we can in what have often been extremely frustrating cases both for them and for myself and my staff.

One particularly frustrating case was the constituent who has fought for answers about why their loved one – a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and in the care of an NHS mental health service – was reported missing, allowed to fly abroad in 2012 and remains there because they are so ill.

The case is complex, but a succession of bodies said the trust had acted in line with relevant standards. Never once have those standards been analysed, instead the trust has simply tried to justify them. An attitude that does nothing to inspire confidence in the system.

Another case was a patient who had a life-threatening condition. It took two years for the ombudsman to acknowledge the poor standard of care, but no reassurance that the failures that caused it aren’t still in place.

These complaints were dealt with by the service provider and then an ombudsman in what is often a complicated, inflexible and unnecessary bureaucratic wrangle taking many months or years.