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Sweden 'swamped' by malpractice complaints

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Sweden 'swamped' by malpractice complaints
10:34 CET+01:00
Swedish health authorities haven't dealt with a single malpractice case since taking over responsibility for managing patient complaints at the start of the year.

Since January 1st, Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has had primary responsibility for processing and addressing complaints filed by patients about the treatment they received in the Swedish healthcare system.

In Stockholm County, the number of serious written complaints has increased by 80 percent in the last five years, with one in three complaints touching on emergency care.

"It stems from an increased workload in emergency care and that there aren't enough available spots," Staffan Blom, head of the Patients' Advisory Committee (Patientnämnden) with the Stockholm County Council, told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

Previously, complaints were sent to the Medical Responsibility Board (Hälso- och sjukvårdens ansvarsnämnd – HSAN), which would then review the complaint before deciding what action to take.

Possible penalties included official warnings, probation, or the withdrawal of a doctor's licence.

As part of the transition under the new law, the National Board of Health and Welfare inherited roughly 2,300 cases which HSAN was unable to process.

Since the start of the year, 700 new complaints have come in.

"There's been a bit of a stop in our production line, but now we've got things going again," said Helene Dahl Fransson, a section head with the health board, told SvD.

She added that processing the cases will likely take longer under the new law, which includes more rigorous standards for judging a complaint's merits.

Among the 3,000 unheard patient complaints are roughly 15 to 20 from 2009 which still have yet to be assessed, something which Dahl Fransson admitted isn't helpful for boosting patient safety.

Synnöve Ödegård, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, calls the growing pile of unaddressed patient complaints "very unfortunate".

"It's frustrating for patients who think they've received the wrong treatment," she told the newspaper.

She added that the number of people who have been harmed in the Swedish healthcare system is "unacceptably high".

"If the complaints aren't analysed then the problems remain and that's negative for patient safety," she said.

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