NHS Complaints Procedure
Thinking about making a complaint to the NHS for medical treatment? Follow Burnetts' step by step guide to the process.
Facts and figures
Within the first quarter of 2017-2018 there were 26,948 complaints made nationally across the United Kingdom. Of these complaints, 33.6% were upheld, 29.8% were partially upheld and 36.6% were not upheld.
There are many constraints currently placed on the NHS due to government cuts resulting in a potential increase in the number of complaints.
Is it worth making a complaint to the NHS?
It can be a beneficial but time-consuming process submitting a complaint to the NHS. Many people choose to follow the procedure even if they are not contemplating a claim for compensation. The primary focus can be to obtain an apology or explanation in response to the medical treatment they have received. Equally, the motivation can be to make the NHS accountable and recognise its own responsibilities.
Complaints should not be underestimated. They can potentially highlight failings in patient care and act as a catalyst for addressing necessary change.
What does the process involve?
Before you consider the steps below, you should be aware that the quicker you take action after you have received, what you consider to be, sub-standard treatment, the better. It may not always be the first thing on your mind. However, it is important to consider that many Trusts will not investigate the treatment patients have received, if it is more than 12 months after the initial treatment.
- What is it that you want to address? It is beneficial to think about what your main concerns were surrounding the treatment with which you were provided.
- It is useful to order your thoughts into chronological order and to be as succinct as possible in your descriptions.
- To address your concerns, you will be required to submit a written complaint to the Trust in the form of a letter.
- You should address this to the Chief Executive of the particular Trust and this information is readily available on the internet.
- It is advisable to keep your letter to between 2 – 3 pages and ensure you make your points succinctly and with impact. Otherwise, issues that you raise could get missed or you may feel they have not been adequately addressed.
- A well structured complaints letter should take the Trust through each step of your treatment or experience in hospital. For example, if you were in hospital between 19 to 22 July 2017, it would be useful to write a paragraph addressing each day.
- A useful technique is to ask questions of the Trust. In this way they have to provide a specific response to the questions you have asked.
- Once you have submitted your complaint letter to the Trust, they should provide an acknowledgment letter within a few weeks.
- The acknowledgement letter will contain information regarding the timeframes of when you can expect to receive a full response.
- It is helpful to diarise when you are expecting a complaints response. If you do not receive one on the specified date this can be chased up with the Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) at the NHS Trust to whom you have written.
What will the complaint response address?
- The response should address the questions you have asked the Trust i.e – why was I not provided with X treatment or; why was there a delay administering X?
- The response may also suggest ways in which the Trust plan to implement new or procedures or enforce existing ones.
Who will respond to my complaint?
Your complaints letter should be responded to by the Chief Executive of the Trust and/or a senior member of staff. For example, if it was in relation to nursing or midwifery care, a senior nurse or midwife could also be involved in responding to you.
What happens if I am still dissatisfied with my complaint?
If you do not feel your complaint has been adequately dealt with there is further action you can take.
The Trust should provide information at the end of your complaint response explaining the process to be followed if you wish to escalate your complaint. If you still remain dissatisfied with the response or feel that the Trust has not answered particular questions, you do have an option to contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman can be contacted on 0345 015 4033.
Should I pursue a medical negligence claim following a complaint response?
- If you feel that you have received sub-standard treatment from a GP, Dentist or NHS Trust then it is worth seeking advice from a legal professional. However, there is no guarantee that there will be legal grounds to pursue a claim;
- You can approach a solicitor before obtaining a complaint response but it is beneficial to obtain one to enable a solicitor to make a more informed decision whether to take forward a potential medical negligence claim.
- A solicitor can assess the complaint response from a GP, Dentist or NHS to see whether any admissions have been made.
- Equally, it is useful for solicitors to consider whether the Trust do not accept certain alleged failings in respect of a patient’s treatment or care. This may indicate how the Trust will respond if a medical negligence claim were to be pursued.
For more information or support with the NHS Complaints Process, contact the Medical Negligence and Serious Injury team here.
About the Author
Sinead McCracken is a trainee solicitor at Burnetts.
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