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NHS patients labelled ‘difficult women’ for raising concerns about care, commissioner says

NHS patients who raise concerns about care are often passed off as “difficult women,” the patient safety commissioner has said.

Henrietta Hughes warned they are too often “gaslit, dismissed, and fobbed off.”

“It shows a very dismissive and very old fashioned, patronising attitude to patients who have identified problems and need to have their voices heard,” the former medical director at NHS England and national guardian for the NHS said.

She also told the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that she is “swimming against the tide” when it comes to making a lasting cultural change in the health service.

“People are quite comfortable with the way they do things already,” she said, adding that NHS trusts are in danger of focusing too much on finance, which makes the working culture “toxic.”

Ms Hughes added that she wants to simplify the way people can access help and make their voices heard.

She said patient safety organisations “don’t join up” and will this year be working to create an easy-to-read guide of the arm’s-length bodies and regulators and what their roles and remits are.

Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis said: “Huge financial pressures related to a relative decline in NHS funding despite increasing demand has meant that ‘balancing the books’ has become the top priority for managers.

“Forcing hospitals to become more like businesses has undoubtedly contributed to less patient-focused services. Adequate resourcing is one of the prerequisites for positive culture change.”

The Department of Health and Social Care 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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