A PATIENT watchdog said the NHS complaints system is too complicated and needs to be overhauled.

Healthwatch Lancashire said too many patients and families were ‘put off’ by the process, so crucial feedback and the chance to make improvements were being missed.

Chairman Leslie Forsyth said he backed the findings of a national review by Healthwatch England, which found more than 70 organisations are involved in dealing with complaints about the NHS.

Initially, healthcare providers such as hospitals, GP practices and care homes, or their commissioning bodies, can be challenged, but there is then a complex array of regulators, inspectorates, courts and committees that may get involved, meaning a single complaint can be passed between several organisations.

Mr Forsyth said: “We share the view that the complaints process is too complex and too much hard work for patients once they get inside it.

“Some people are bewildered and others are just put off by how difficult it is. If it was nice and simple people would be able to do it there and then when something happens, but often that spontaneous moment gets lost and they start to think ‘well maybe it wasn’t that bad’.”

He suggested some of the well-documented failings at Stafford Hospital might have been avoided if more patients and families had complained.

The Healthwatch groups in Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen have been working closely with East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust to improve its internal complaints system, which was slammed by inspectors last year for ‘lacking compassion’.

The Royal Blackburn and Burnley General have since launched a drive to offer complainants face-to-face meetings with the relevant clinicians. About two-thirds of complainants are now offered meetings, but bosses are keen to see this increase to 100 per cent.

Sir Bill Taylor, chairman of Blackburn with Darwen Healthwatch, said: "Only the health service could develop such a maze and minefield that confounds understanding even by those employed within it.”

Julie Mellor, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said: "We are working with the Department of Health, NHS England and regulators to help people better understand where they need to go when they want to raise a concern."