THE number of written complaints to GP and dental practices in Winsford and Northwich has fallen considerably over the past two years, according to NHS data.

Figures show that GP and dental practices in the Vale Royal clinical commissioning group (CCG) received 163 written complaints between April 2017 and March 2018, compared with 210 the previous year - a drop of 22 per cent.

In Winsford and Northwich, 24 per cent of the 147 complaints that were dealt with in 2017-18 were upheld, meaning that evidence was found to support the complaint and an admission was made by the practice.

A further 10 per cent of the resolved complaints were partially upheld. Complaints about multiple issues are recorded as partially upheld if some, but not all, of the issues are upheld.

Complaints that were found to be unsubstantiated, frivolous or vexatious and were not upheld made up 66 per cent of the total.

Medical experts say that there are many factors that could cause complaint numbers to vary year-on-year.

According to guidance from the British Medical Association, a complaint can be made by a patient, or anyone affected by the action, omission or decision of the practice that led to the complaint.

Complaints can be made about any person working in the primary care practice, from the GPs themselves to admin staff and receptionists.

In recent years there has been an effort to make patients more aware of ways in which their views can be heard, including information on how the complaints procedure works.

Written complaints can be made about any issue, ranging in seriousness from a broken doorbell to allegations of malpractice.

Across England the number of recorded written complaints rose by four per cent, from just more than 90,000 in 2016-17 to nearly 95,000 the following year.

Healthwatch, the independent patients' rights group, said that the number of complaints can vary significantly from one area to the next.

Healthwatch policy director Jacob Lant said: "Numbers can also vary quite a bit year-on-year for the same areas, but this isn't necessarily a sign that services are getting better or worse.

"In some cases, a large spike in complaints could be down to local efforts to promote how people can speak up about things they are not happy with."

Mr Lant said that Healthwatch is more interested in what is being learned from complaints, and how services are improving.

He said: "After all, that is the main reason why people complain in the first place, to make sure services learn and so others don't have to suffer the same poor experience in future."