Who is the Patients’ friend? CHCs or PALS?

I have to declare an interest. I once was a Community Health Council Chief Officer.  I left to manage services but I like to think that what I learned in those three years made me a better manager.

CHCs were made up of local people nominated by the Council, voluntary sector and regional health authority. Their duty was to received complaints and advocate for the patient, to visit local services and to examine and comment on planned changes in NHS services. As with all services the best were very good but there were a few less effective. Rather than raise the standards of the few, the government of the day abolished them. Now those functions are divided between PALS, HealthWatch and a remote Advocacy service.

PALS is the internal complaints department accountable to the hospital. It is a truism of all complaints system that complaints are best dealt with quickly and close to the problem. It is important that the person advocating for the patient is not the same person who is investigating the incident. PALs is able to do all that. It is also important that organisations learn from complaints and see them as an asset.  What is lost is the mechanism to translate the number or content of complaints into inspection and pressure to change the service. HealthWatch has lost those reports on complaints from the chief officer. I propose that PALS should be accountable to Health Watch and their resources should be combined to form a Patients Representation Service. The PRS should have a national member organisation which can set standards, share good practice and news and offer training for members and staff.