A CULTURE change is essential to improve complaints handling in NHS Wales according to the National Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee.

The committee were concerned to hear that when things do go wrong, there appears to be a culture of “lockdown” within NHS Wales. It recognises the steps that many local health boards and NHS trusts in Wales are taking to improve complaints handling, though witnesses described a complaints process still characterised by a sense of defensiveness from staff handling them complaints, and fear from staff, patients and relatives wishing to raise them.

The committee has called on the minister to require all local health boards and trusts to take immediate steps to ensure that all staff are encouraged and supported to raise concerns without fear of reprisal, and to ensure that concerns receive an adequate response.

They believe that strengthened accountability and leadership are essential to ensure that all complaints are handled properly and that lessons are learnt so that services can be improved.

David Rees AM, chairman of the health and social care committee, said: “The committee recognises that the overwhelming majority of people’s experiences of NHS Wales are positive. But we believe that, on the rare occasions when things go wrong, the way complaints are handled needs significant improvement.

“Complaints should be treated openly, transparently and in a timely manner. Those making complaints, whether staff or patients, should feel able to do so without fear that their careers or care could be adversely affected as a consequence.”

He added: “We welcome the evidence we heard that many health boards and trusts are already trying to bring about the culture change we believe is required, but there is more which should be done to make what is already a difficult time for all involved much less distressing.”

The committee has set out its main findings in a letter to the minister for health and social services and will revisit the issue to see what progress has been made before the end of this Assembly in 2016 to find out what progress has been made.