Patients ‘afraid to complain’ for fear of repercussions

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall says people don’t think complaining will make any difference

Patients are afraid to complain about the care they receive in hospitals because of concerns over possible repercussions for themselves or their loved ones, according to an investigation by the Ombudsman.

The investigation by ombudsman Peter Tyndall also found that people do not complain as they do not believe it would make any difference.

Mr Tyndall carried out the investigation as he was concerned that his office was receiving very few complaints about the healthcare system compared with ombudsman offices in other countries.

Speaking at a seminar to launch the report the ombudsman described complaints as a “vital early warning system” for hospitals and other health services. “I wonder if the tragic events seen in Áras Attracta and Portlaoise hospital could have been avoided if those complaints were dealt with properly.”


The Ombudsman has recommended the HSE and each hospital put an action plan in place to make it easy for people to complain, to “ensure that people have access to an effective independent advocacy service”, to “ establish a single, consistent complaints system” and to “investigate the most serious complaints independently”.

Mr Tyndall said his office will be monitoring the implementation of the action plans to ensure that improvement is achieved and sustained.

Complaints to the ombudsman about healthcare represent 20 per cent of all complaints received. This is very low compared with other jurisdictions such as Northern Ireland (over 60 per cent) and the UK (80 per cent).

The investigation discovered many users of hospital services were afraid of repercussions, did not believe anything would change as a result of complaining and found it difficult to discover how to complain.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times