WRITTEN complaints to the NHS Trust in charge of two of the district's hospitals have risen by almost a quarter in the last year, with a patient group warning that the new figures may only be "the tip of the iceberg."

Data released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre shows that Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, responsible for Bradford Royal Infirmary and St Luke's, received 553 complaints in 2013/14, up from 447 the previous year, an increase of 24 per cent.

Of these complaints, 271 were upheld, a rate of 49 per cent, equating to the national average.

The services attracting the most criticism were the Trust's outpatient services with 196 complaints, followed by its inpatient services with 195.

Bradford Royal Infirmary's A&E department received 67 complaints.

Meanwhile, 46 people were unhappy with some form of geriatric care, and 45 made a formal complaint against maternity services.

The Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, responsible for Airedale Hospital, received 73 complaints, up from 67 in 2012/13, of which seven were upheld.

Official complaints against Bradford District Care Trust, the district's main community health service provider, fell from 83 in 2012/13 to 80 this year, although a higher number of complaints, 33, or 41.3 per cent, were upheld.

Three-quarters of the complaints made to the Trust were made in relation to its mental health provision.

Nationally, complaints made against NHS hospitals and community health services totalled 114,300 in 2013/14, a 4.6 per cent rise from 109,300 in 2012/13 and the equivalent of an extra 96 complaints each week.

Healthwatch Bradford and District, established last year to give the public a voice in health and social care decision-making, said research suggested the number of recorded complaints were only "the tip of the iceberg."

Manager Andrew Jones said: "We regularly hear from people across our district who find the process of making complaints very difficult and frustrating, or who don’t have the confidence that speaking out will make a difference.

"It’s vitally important that people are able to make a complaint when things go wrong in local NHS services, and that these complaints are dealt with effectively and learnt from.

“Helping people to speak out about their experience and making the complaints process easier to navigate is crucial to ensure providers learn from the times when things go wrong."

Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s deputy chief nurse, Sally Scales, said the increase in the number of complaints was a reflection of improved public awareness about how to raise concerns, adding that the 221 upheld complaints equated to 0.028 per cent of 778,760 patients seen by the Trust during 2013-14.

“We continually encourage feedback from our patients, both good and bad, as it helps us find out what we are doing well and what improvements we need to make," she said.

"We are not complacent and every complaint is taken very seriously. Each one is fully investigated and each complainant receives a written response and explanation along with details of any action taken.

"Only by doing this, do we feel we can we truly reflect our patients’ needs and continue to deliver first-class care to the people of Bradford.”

Debra Fairley, deputy director of nursing at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, said only 0.58 per cent of people who used its services during 2013/14 found cause to complain.

“We value all feedback and take every complaint extremely seriously as it allows us to improve our services for all patients," she said.

"We strive to listen to what our patients, families and carers think about our care and services in order to make continuous improvements and to resolve any issues that are important to them."

Allison Bingham, deputy director of Inpatient services at Bradford District Care Trust, said it had seen a reduction in formal complaints, but an increase in the number of informal concerns raised.

“We encourage patients, service users and carers to tell us when they are not happy, and see this as a way of being able to continually improve our services," she said.

"We always strive to address complaints in a fair, open and transparent manner, and identify and share any lessons learnt across the whole organisation."