We are often approached by new prospective clients who believe something may have gone wrong with the medical care provided to them or a loved one. Our advice is almost always that the best course of action is to discuss concerns with the medical staff involved first. If this does not resolve the matter, the next step is to exhaust the NHS Complaints Procedure.
In our experience, exhausting the complaints process often results in patients actually seeing an improvement in their medical care if it is ongoing. This certainly does not occur in every case, but it may be that a patient receives an earlier medical appointment, obtains information about their condition or future treatment, or a second opinion is arranged. It is important to be reassured that medical professionals owe a duty of care, regardless of whether a patient has complained about them or not.
A complaint is something we can often help with by offering straightforward guidance and explanations of the procedure as the first step to obtaining answers for our clients. The process is free to use and we encourage new clients to try this before taking matters further.
How has the NHS Complaints Procedure been impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19?
Changes to the NHS complaints handling procedure have been announced in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
NHS England and NHS Improvement are supporting a system wide ‘pause’ of the NHS complaints process in England which will allow all health care providers in all sectors to concentrate their efforts on the front-line duties and responsiveness to COVID-19.
Can I still make a complaint?
Yes. NHS England have said that “NHS providers should ensure that patients and the public are still able to raise concerns or make a complaint”. Your right to make a complaint or raise a concern is therefore not paused and the legal duty on the NHS to investigate and respond to complaints remains. What has changed is the expectation that these can be dealt with in a timely and efficient manner at this difficult time. Our advice is that complaints should be made whilst events and details are fresh in your mind and it is usually best to do this as soon as possible after the incident. In any event, complaints should be made within 12 months of the alleged incident.
Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA), the charity for patient safety and justice, advise that the NHS will still need to acknowledge the complaint, log it and see if there are any immediate issues which need to be dealt with in relation to patient safety. They will often need to seek the opinion of the clinical staff involved to be able to fully investigate and provide a substantive and detailed response.
What is the current timeframe and when will I receive a response?
The initial pause is for three months and will run until the end of June 2020. This applies to all complaints including complaints which have recently been submitted. Once the pause is lifted, it will be investigated and responded to. Unfortunately, this does not mean that you will definitely receive a response in three months. The initial pause will be reviewed and complex clinical complaints can often take longer to investigate.
It is important that if you are going to submit a complaint, that you have a realistic expectation of how long a complaint will likely take to be dealt with – which is understandably likely to be a lot longer than normal.
The written complaint 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.