THE head of NHS Grampian came under fire last night for sending a “dismissive” letter to a patient suffering photophobia – a fear of bright lights.
Chief executive Richard Carey was ordered to apologise after signing off the “abrupt and defensive” correspondence from the 28-year-old woman’s doctor.
Last night, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) said this was “one of the poorest examples of complaints handling” he had seen.
He said the letter – a response to a complaint by the patient’s mother – read like the doctor was saying: “I am right and you are wrong”.
Last night, NHS Grampian admitted the response fell below “normal high standards” and agreed to carry out a review of internal procedures.
In his findings published yesterday, ombudsman Jim Martin said the SPSO was called to investigate a complaint by the patient’s mother, following treatment by an out-of-hours doctor at Peterhead hospital in May 2011.
The patient – who is named only as Ms A in the report – was taken to the town’s hospital by ambulance after complaining of photophobia, a condition where the eyes are extremely sensitive to light.
She had the hood of her top pulled down over her face because, she told health workers, the light was hurting her eyes.
The woman also complained of chronic fatigue, muscle pain and a persistent thirst.
An out-of-hours GP diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection, prescribed her a course of antibiotics and sent her home.
The next day, she was admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary where she was kept in for five days for tests.
Later, her mother – Mrs C – complained about the diagnosis her daughter received at Peterhead.
NHS Grampian replied with a direct response from her doctor which, the SPSO found “failed to acknowledge the concerns expressed and could be summarised as: I am right, you are wrong”.
After Mrs C complained about the letter, she received a response from health board boss Mr Carey – although it appeared to be an “unaltered cut and paste” copy of the doctor’s original e-mail.
The ombudsman said the decision to allow the word- for-word account by the doctor to be sent unaltered was “highly questionable” and showed no signs of formal discussion or investigation. It “undoubtedly caused Mrs C offence and further frustration”, an adviser to the ombudsmen said.
Mr Martin upheld the mother’s complaint that the doctor had failed to mention Ms A said she had presented with a headache.
He also ruled that: “The chief executive issued a dismissive response to Mrs C’s complaint which reflected the lack of investigation into her concerns”.
He added: “This is one of the poorest examples of complaints handling I have seen. It is not acceptable that the board simply allowed the doctor to respond directly, without any effort to formulate a more appropriate response on behalf of the board.
“The tone of the doctor’s letter was defensive and abrupt.”
He said the board did not “demonstrate fairness, provide full explanations or apologise for any shortcomings in their investigation”.
A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said last night: “We acknowledge unreservedly that our handling of the complaint fell well short of our normal high standards on this occasion. It was certainly not our intention to be perceived as dismissive.”
She said: “We had received detailed information from the clinician responsible for Mrs C's daughter's care and the view taken was to pass this on to Mrs C unaltered, given the complaint was a personal one about the care provided.
“With hindsight we recognise why Mrs C was not satisfied.”
She said: “The chief executive takes the investigation of complaints very seriously.
“As a consequence of this report, a review of our internal procedures is under way to ensure that all responses are dealt with appropriately and sensitively.”