Healthcare is an important part of everyone’s life. Our NHS has existed for over 70 years to provide medical care. However, sometimes the care you receive is not to the standard you would hope or expect and, as written in the NHS Constitution, you have a right to make a complaint about any aspect of the care you received.
NHS service providers, such as GP’s, hospitals and dental surgeries all have free complaint procedures, although it may vary depending on the organisation. However, most organisations should detail how to make a complaint. In some circumstances, it may be that you have various complaints to make to different organisations: to your GP and hospital. It is the duty of the organisation who receives your complaint, to co-ordinate with others, although in our experience it is best to send separate complaints to those NHS service providers regarding which you have concerns.
The free complaint procedure allows you to raise questions about the care you received. There are various ways to make a complaint:-
- Verbal complaint: a complaint made verbally should be recorded by the organisation and you should receive a written response. A verbal complaint can be made over the telephone or in person.
- Formal complaint: a formal complaint is made in writing, either by email or letter. The formal letter of complaint is arguably the best way to make a complaint because it allows you to present your concerns in a clear and concise format and as a result will provide a more informative complaint response from the organisation. However, the NHS has a duty to respond to all forms of complaints and there is no harm in initially making a verbal complaint to follow-up with a written complaint.
What is the complaint procedure for?
Not only is the complaint procedure a good source of feedback for the NHS, the service is also free and is a good first step in addressing your concern. In some instances it may also be useful in assessing whether or not you may have a potential clinical negligence case. The complaint procedure is a beneficial way of asking the NHS service provider to investigate the event that concerns you and draw it to their attention. It is worth noting that there is no limit on the amount of questions you can ask, however, it is worth being as clear as possible so that the organisation will hopefully provide clear answers.
How do I complain?
Most organisations you wish to make the complaint to should have a section on their website or leaflets in the practice, which explain how complaints can be made. If not, it is worth telephoning the organisation and asking them about their complaint procedure. In most hospitals there is PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service), who can provide you with guidance on the complaint procedure and is a good place to start if you need advice.
A complaint can be made by you for you or you can make a complaint on behalf of another. In this instance it is important that written consent is included with the complaint. At Taylor & Emmet LLP, we regularly send complaints, without obligation, on behalf of the people who contact us with a potential clinical negligence enquiry. We write concise and clear complaints, addressing your key concerns to make sure that your questions are answered.
Is there a timeframe to make a complaint?
The timeframe to make a complaint is either twelve months from the date you feel the care you received fell below a reasonable standard, or twelve months from the knowledge of when you became diagnosed. In some cases this time limit can be extended but it has to be for a good reason.
What happens after a complaint has been made?
Once a complaint has been sent it should be followed by an acknowledgment within three working days, but normally this is received after around two weeks with an explanation of how the complaint will be handled. This explanation will give you an idea of when the response will be sent back to you and keep you informed if the response is delayed.
Generally, the response should be received by you within six months of sending the complaint. The written response should provide findings from the investigation into your care, answers to the questions laid out in your complaint and apologies where necessary. If we are dealing with your enquiry at this point we would review the response and plan our next steps accordingly.
Whilst the complaint procedure is the best first step in addressing whether or not the care you received was potentially negligent, if you feel the questions you asked in your complaint were not answered, and would like to take your complaint further, there is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. In addition, my colleagues and I are happy to review the response you received from the Trust and assist you in your enquiry.