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'Compliments far outweigh complaints in HSC' - Swann

The Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the publication today of statistics on the complaints and compliments received by Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts during 2019/20.

It details the number of HSC Trust complaint issues received, the category, subject and specialty of the complaint issue, along with the time taken to provide a substantive response to complaints received.

The statistical release also includes information on complaints against Family Practitioner Services in Northern Ireland, encompassing GPs, dentists, pharmacists and optometrists. In addition, it has information on the thousands of compliments received by Trusts in the past year.

A total of 4,370 complaints, relating to 6,105 complaint issues, were received by HSC Trusts in 2019/20. Almost three fifths of complaints related to the acute programme of care.

Since 2015/16, the number of complaint issues received by HSC Trusts has shown a minor change from 6,181 to 6,105.

In 2019/20, 27,817 compliments were received by HSC Trusts.  Almost 61% related to the quality of treatment and care experienced by patients, while more than a quarter were in praise of staff attitude and behaviour.

The Health Minister said: “Transparency and accountability are vitally important cornerstones of our Health and Social Care system. Much work has been done throughout HSC Trusts to ensure that we have embedded complaints procedures that are robust, effective and timely, and which provide opportunities for learning.

“I am encouraged by the fact that compliments far outweigh complaints and that the large majority of compliments were for the high standard of treatment and care provided to patients by our magnificent staff.

“Once again, I pay tribute to their tireless and outstanding efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic, and I know that they will continue to deliver the same standard of care as we face a difficult winter period.”

Key Points

The key findings presented in the statistics release are listed below.

Latest Year (2019/20):

· A total of 4,370 complaints, relating to 6,105 complaint issues, were received by HSC Trusts in 2019/20 (Tables 1 & 9); equating to 84 complaints per week or approximately 12 complaints per day.

· Almost three fifths (3,576, 58.6%) of complaint issues received during 2019/20 related to the ‘Acute’ POC (Table 2, Figure 3).

· During 2019/20, the greatest number (1,855, 30.4%) of complaint issues concerned the patient’s ‘Diagnosis/Operation/Treatment’ (Table 5).

· The highest percentage of complaint issues received in 2019/20 related to the ‘Accident & Emergency’ (746, 12.2%) specialty (Table 7).

· Of the 4,370 complaints received in 2019/20, the median age of the patient / client was 46.7 years (Figure 8).

· On average HSC Trusts took 29.4 working days to provide a substantive response to complaints received in 2019/20 (Table 9, Figure 13).

· During 2019/20, 27,817 compliments (via card, email, feedback form, letter, social media or telephone) were received by HSC Trusts in Northern Ireland.

· Of the 27,817 compliments received, 16,909 (60.8%) related to 'Quality of Treatment & Care', 7,306 (26.3%) to 'Staff Attitude & Behaviour', 2,203 (7.9%) to 'Information & Communication', 1,064 (3.8%) to 'Environment', and 335 (1.2%) to 'Other' subjects (Table 15, Figure 20).

Last five years (2015/16 to 2019/20)

· Since 2015/16, the number of complaint issues received by HSC Trusts has shown minor change from 6,181 to 6,105 in 2019/20 (Table 1, Figure 2).

· Over the last five years, four of the six HSC Trusts reported a decrease in complaint issues received; whilst the South Eastern and Belfast HSC Trusts reported increases (231, 19.9% and 99, 4.9%, respectively) (Table 1, Figure 2).

· Between 2015/16 and 2019/20, the largest increase in the number of complaint issues (95, 34.9%) was observed in the ‘Maternal & Child Health’ POC (272 to 367) (Table 3).

· Complaints handled in 2019/20 against Family Practitioner Services decreased by a third (107, 33.8%) compared to the previous year (317 in 2018/19); the number of complaints being at its lowest in five years (Table 10, Figure 14).

The information release is published on the Departmental website:


1. The information detailed in this publication is derived from the Departmental Revised statistical return provided by the six HSC Trusts including the Ambulance Service (NIAS). It also includes information on FPS complaints derived from the HSC Board CHB statistical return.