Giving Patients a Voice

Giving Patients a Voice

17th January 2023

Tony Kenmuir, Lead Project Manager, CAS in the Herald on Saturday 14 January 2023

14 January 2023

A young lady named Iris visited her elderly father in hospital last year. She saw that the medical staff were taking great care of him, but as she was leaving she happened to overhear a conversation between two porters behind a screen in which they referred to her father and to other patients in the ward in a way which was deeply offensive.

Iris was shocked and upset. She didn’t feel able to confront the porters or to complain to the nurses who she could see were incredibly busy and were taking such great care of her Dad. But she knew she couldn’t let it lie without pursuing some sort of accountability.

My job at Citizens Advice Scotland involves managing a project for people like Iris who have a complaint about the NHS. The Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) is a statutory service under the 2011 Patient Rights Act, funded by the Scottish Government and run by Citizens Advice Scotland. In the ten years it’s been running it has supported more than 30,000 people, giving them information on patient rights and also guiding them through the NHS complaints process.

Our NHS is under extraordinary pressure, and it is a public service we cherish because of the role it plays in our lives - from births of our children to the passing of our loved ones. It is emotive to us in a way some other public services may not be.

However, sometimes mistakes are made. Not just incidents like the one above but waiting times, poor communication, lack of hygiene, discrimination and, most concerning of all, poor medical care. As each Health Board operates separately the complaints process can be hard to navigate. And that’s what PASS is for.

I might be showing my age but in a world of call centres it can seem harder to communicate with large organisations than it used to be when something goes wrong; whether it’s a mobile phone bill, a credit rating, or an illness.  

We collaborate with our NHS in a very positive way, sharing reports and information and regularly meeting with Health Boards across the country; working together to improve the experience of patients and address issues head on when something goes wrong.  The service isn’t about criticising the health service or hard working NHS staff, who are under tremendous pressure, but giving patients a voice within the system which in turn makes that system better.

Sometimes PASS advisers spend only a short time with a client, or they might correspond together over a period of months. It’s work that takes great skill and empathy as well as high degrees of knowledge about how the NHS works. In the last twelve months alone, PASS has supported over 5,000 people – including Iris, who with our help received a letter of apology from the hospital and an assurance that the staff concerned had been reprimanded and that all staff had been reminded of the importance of respect and discretion at all times.

Like all services of the Scottish Citizens Advice network, PASS advice is free, impartial and confidential and you can access it through any of our 59 local CABs, or at or by calling 0800 917 2127.

Tony Kenmuir is Lead Project Manager at Citizens Advice Scotland. This article first appeared in the Herald on Saturday 14 January 2023