Shropshire Star

Patients ‘gaslighted’ and ‘fobbed off’ over NHS safety – commissioner

Henrietta Hughes said NHS trusts are in danger of focusing too much on finance, which makes the working culture ‘toxic’.

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Staff at a hospital ward

Patients are too often “gaslighted, dismissed, and fobbed off” when they raise concerns about NHS care, the patient safety commissioner has said.

Henrietta Hughes said the “patient’s anecdote is the canary in the coal mine” of what is happening in the NHS and is “the thing that tells us there’s something going wrong”.

She added: “But too often we hear about patients who have raised concerns being gaslighted, dismissed, and fobbed off.”

In an interview with the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Ms Hughes, who took up her role in 2022, said women in some cases had been patronised and had their concerns dismissed.

She added that she is “swimming against the tide” when it comes to making a lasting cultural change in the NHS.

Her role, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, was created after a recommendation in a report examining three scandals: hormone pregnancy tests that are thought to be associated with birth defects and miscarriages; sodium valproate, an antiepileptic drug that can cause birth defects when taken by pregnant women; and pelvic mesh implants, which have been linked to serious complications.

Ms Hughes said that, too often, patients raising concerns were passed off as “difficult women”.

She added: “It shows a very dismissive and very old fashioned, patronising attitude to patients who have identified problems and need to have their voices heard.”

While Ms Hughes, a former medical director at NHS England and national guardian for the NHS, does not examine individual cases, she wants to simplify the way people can access help and make their voices heard.

“There’s over 100 patient safety organisations, and one of the things that we’ll be working on this year is doing the Patient Safety Atlas of Powers, an easy-to-read guide of the arm’s length bodies and regulators and what their roles and remits are,” she said.

“Because as far as I’m concerned, they don’t join up. They don’t reference the next step in the chain.”

She said NHS trusts are in danger of focusing too much on finance which makes the working culture “toxic”.

She added that she is “swimming against the tide” when it comes to making a lasting cultural change, adding: “People are quite comfortable with the way they do things already.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said:  “Too many patients are not listened to, treated with respect, or given the information they need to access the right services.

“This Government will prioritise patient safety to ensure that the NHS treats everyone with the high quality and safe care that they deserve.”

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