The conference room at Derry’s Citizens Advice Bureau in the Embassy building was packed to capacity on Thursday as the Belfast based Patient and Client Council announced they will from now on be holding a clinic one day a week in Derry.
Representatives from the organisation said they were delighted to be in the city where demand for their services had been high enough to necessitate having a drop-in centre one day a week.
The Patient Client Council act on behalf of people who wish to make a complaint about health and social services.
Speaking at Thursday’s event, Chief Executive Maeve Hully said: “Despite the fact that the overall number of complaints to Health and Social Care bodies remains fairly static, it is clear from our workload that patients, service users and their families increasingly seek support from the Patient and Client Council’s complaints service.”
In the Western Trust area, 175 complaints were brought to the council between 2011 and 2012, with the top two complaint areas being related to mental health and social services and nursing homes.
Thursday’s launch of the Derry clinic was attended by representatives from a number of local organisations including ZEST, Action Mental Health, The Rainbow Project, RNIB and families of those affected by changes at the Slievemore Nursing Unit.
Addressing them, Maeve Hully said: “For us, it’s important that we make sure the people we act for get some resolution. People want to be listened to, if they have a bad experience, they want to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to anyone else.
“We will take that journey with people. We do feel there’s been a gap in not having that presence here in Derry and with this new clinic, we’ll now be able to tailor our service to the people who live here and we’ll do that alongside the Citizens Advice Bureau.”
Pat Andrews, Vice Chair of the Derry Citizens Advice Bureau, said things had “gone wrong” in the NHS, if so many people were experiencing problems and being referred back to the traditional practice of a community-based GP.
He told those who gathered for Thursday’s launch: “There was a point when a doctor could get you straight into a ward in Altnagelvin if you needed hospital treatment. Now, all we hear are stories of people on trollies and waiting hours and hours just to get talking to someone in A&E. We’re hearing what the families of the Slievemore patients are having to go through and they’re left feeling helpless about decisions which are made which directly affect them.
“It’s not a case of people being listened to when they complain about an issue in the health service, they must also be heard,” he said.
“That’s why there’s such a demand for the Patient and Client Council and why we in the CAB are delighted to be helping them to offer this service here.
“Last year, I waited from 7pm on a Saturday evening until 11am on a Sunday morning to be seen in A&E and that’s not good enough. So many people are experiencing situations like these and they deserve to have their voices heard.
“A shortage of money in the hospital system is creating more and more problems like these and when you have restrictions in place when it comes to people and their health, there’s bound to be a strain.
“)Now, with the Patient and Client Council having a presence in Derry, we hope to be able to support people who are experiencing those strains.”
The Patient Client Council Complaints Officer will be in the Citizens Advice office on Wednesdays between 10:30 and 3:30pm.