Young people feel unable to complain about poor health services, report finds

By Lauren Higgs

| 13 July 2012

Children and young people feel unable to complain about poor quality health services for fear of receiving inadequate treatment as a result, a report has found.

Not all staff health services are trained to act on complaints made by children and young people.

The report, carried out on behalf of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, asked young people about their experiences of GP, mental and sexual health services. It also questioned GPs and professionals working in primary care trusts and patient advice and liaison services.

The study found that children and young people are often put off from airing their views on poor services because “complaints are not always treated in confidence” and they can be “labelled as troublemakers”.

Researchers also found that many children are unaware that complaint systems even exist. Those that were aware, warned that complaints procedures are complicated, rely too much on written skills and are overly formal.

Meanwhile, staff in GP, mental health and sexual health services said they were not always trained to receive and act on complaints made by children and young people. Young people said that professionals often regard complaints as “negative rather than something to learn from”.

One young person told the researchers: “They don’t take you seriously if you have a mental health problem, they say you’re over sensitive, or they say its just part of your illness.” Another said: “I’d worry that they would give me bad service if I complain.”

The children’s commissioner Maggie Atkinson described the research findings as “worrying”. “Many children do not know how to voice their concerns nor do they have faith in the current complaints process,” she said. “Some are worried about losing access to those services if they do make a complaint.”

“The fact that at least one in seven users of GP services is a child, means that those services should take seriously their responsibilities to listen to and act on the views of our children and young people, including when what they have to say is uncomfortable or challenging.”

Atkinson urged all health services to develop child-friendly complaints processes and to use feedback from young people to improve their provision. She added that new HealthWatch organisations must make sure they do enough to engage with children and young people.

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