Healthcare trusts and hospitals across the Westcountry received 450 complaints last year, prompting a warning from the ombudsman that the NHS is failing to communicate effectively with patients and families.
This figure was almost a third of the 1,432 across the Greater South West, which was the fourth highest in the country, according to a new report.
Devon received the majority – 290 across seven NHS trusts, including Plymouth and Torbay – while Cornwall registered 110 across three trusts. The remainder related to the regional strategic health authority and the ambulance service.
The Health Service Ombudsman recorded 16,333 complaints nationwide, reporting a "significant rise" in the number of complaints where the NHS has failed to provide an adequate remedy or proper apology when things have gone wrong. In one case, a bereaved daughter was told "death is rarely an ideal situation for anyone" and in another unhappy relatives were told their mother had "probably said her goodbyes long before the final moments".
Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: "All too often the people who come to us for help are unhappy because of the careless communication, insincere apologies and unclear explanations they've received from the NHS. A poor response to a complaint can add to the problems of someone who is unwell, struggling to take care of others or grieving. The NHS needs to get better at listening to patients and their families and responding to their concerns."
The report, Listening and Learning, is produced independently of the NHS and has released details from 2011-12.
The report highlighted a continuing problem with GPs unfairly or hastily striking off patients from their practice lists after disputes and disagreements. Despite issuing a warning about this a year ago, complaints of this kind increased by 16%.
The report concluded that there needed to be "a clear shift in the attitude and practice of some GPs towards complaints". It added: "As the new NHS begins to take shape, GPs and other providers, GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS Commissioning Board will need to work to embed good complaint handling across the NHS."
The study documents a 50% rise in complaints about the NHS not acknowledging mistakes in care and 42% more complaints about inadequate remedies being offered, including inadequate apologies.
It also breaks down the figures by organisation and revealed that the Devon Primary Care Trust attracted the largest number of grievances in Devon and Cornwall with 70. This was followed by the Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust with 61, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust with 60, and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust with 50.
The figures for other health organisations in the South West were: Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust 40; Devon Partnership NHS Trust 26; Plymouth Teaching PCT 27; Torbay Care Trust 31; and the South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 23.
The South West Strategic Health Authority received 30 complaints and the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust seven.
The Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust received 15 and the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust 10.