Complaining About A NHS Mental Health Service

In my experience many people want to complain about things they don’t like within the NHS. Be it staffing levels, access, choice, quality or any number of other different things. As today I have put aside a little time to deal with a issue within my local community mental health trust I thought I would blog how I went about dealing with it so that others who might be put off by not knowing how to go about it or the stress of doing so can see how simple it can be to make your voice heard.

The Problem

I became a patient/service user back in late 2009/early 2010. I met my psychiatrist once then I was informed  that he had left the practice and that I would either see my new doctor or a temporary locum at my next appointment. Every 2/3 months since that point I have seen a different locum doctor, sometimes I’m fortunate enough to see the same one twice before they move on. Each time I have to see a new doctor I feel I have to start from scratch with them, combat their assumptions/prejudices, explain why I use a wheelchair, talk about my treatment and then debate if the ‘new pill!’ they want to put me on would really be any better than my current medication. I don’t feel like I am getting any value out of these appointments, in fact more often than not they simply upset me because I feel I have to talk about chunks of my history I am not comfortable talking about with someone who won’t be there next time I visit.

Every time I meet a new locum I start by asking if they are permanent and every time they tell me that they have asked to be made permanent but that it’s up to BSMHFT (Birmingham & Solihull mental health foundation trust). So it appears that for some reason or another BSMHFT have decided that they are better off using locums rather than hiring a full time doctor. My cynical side tells me that it is a cost cutting exercise because locums don’t accrue rights & pay rises the way a permanent staff member would. Still, regardless of BSMHFT’s reasons the situation is very far from ideal and I believe is upsetting a number of patients, not just myself.

How I decided to go about making my voice heard.

The first thing I do when I want to complain/make my views heard is try to work out who I need to talk to. When I have issues with a hospital I know that I can just contact that hospitals branch of PALS (Patient Advice & Liaison Service). If my issue is with a GP or dentist I would contact the surgery to ask for details of the complaints procedure. As it’s my local mental health team I would normally call them up and ask for details of the complaints procedure but past experience of doing that hasn’t gotten me very far so instead I look up the BSMHFT website and look for contact details.

Luckily for me BSMHFT has a branch of PALS so my second step is to call them up and to ask how best to deal with the issue. They were very helpful and suggested that my first stop should be trying to talk to the manager of my local community mental health team (CMHT), then if they were unreceptive I should contact PALS again to get some help putting in a complaint.

Next I decide to follow the advice I’ve just been given and call my CMHT and ask to speak to the manager about this. I’m really rather nervous but I really think this is too important to let that put me off. The manager was very pleasant and started by asking if I wanted to talk over the phone or if I would rather make a face to face appointment. I opted for the phone (because my electric wheelchair is broken at the moment) and then explain that I wasn’t very happy with the state of play & listed – briefly – my reasons for this. The manager listened and then proceeded to explain that the CMHT would like the position filled and that there are a lot of patients service users who feel like I do. They are being told that there are plans in place to have a permanent consultant but, they don’t want to make any promises because they’ve been told that before then been forced to back track when nothing came of it. It seems that people think that the position is being left open for a couple of reasons; firstly, as I suspected, locums are cheap and lacking in employment rights and secondly, by having an open position it makes it easier for the trust to reshuffle employees should there be another wave of cuts. The manager agreed to send out a formal complaint form so that I could make my objections known with the hope that if enough people do that it will put pressure on those responsible for allocating staff to fill the position.

Now it’s just a case of waiting for the complaints for to arrive which I will fill out and send off. It’s really important that I do because the chances of todays phone call actually being mentioned to the people who need to pressured (those allocating staff) is pretty slim. A formal complaint will be logged on the system and added to any others that have been sent in and those will make it to the desks of the decision makers.

I hope this might have inspired a couple of people to make their views heard and given a bit of support when it comes to finding out how to do so.

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