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Complaining Through the NHS

After receiving unacceptable medical treatment under the NHS, you may wish to complain. If you go on to make a compensation claim, the findings of this complaint could be useful.

Complaints can be made about any unsatisfactory experience whilst receiving medical treatment. Aside from inadequate treatment itself, this can mean discourteous behaviour by staff or doctors, long waiting times, unreasonable ejection from a practice or refusal to give treatment.

There is a complaints procedure enveloping all treatment under the NHS.

The NHS Complaints Procedure

It is obligatory for NHS Trusts, health authorities and general practitioners to have in place a complaints procedure, the existence of which should be clearly communicated to patients. Usually a Complaints Manager is appointed to spearhead this process.

It is best to make your complaint swiftly while the event is still clear in your memory. NHS time limits stipulate that you must complain either within 12 months of the date of the event or 12 months or less after you became aware of it.

The NHS complaints procedure is currently not available to those who have shown an intention to take legal action for medical negligence. It is best to complain before thinking of hiring a solicitor, as even using one to make your complaint for you could be construed by the NHS as such an intention.

Stage 1 – Local Resolution

Local resolution is the first stage and attempts to resolve complaints quickly and amicably if at all possible. You should contact the Complaints Manager, or whoever is responsible, either orally or in writing.  A written complaint should be acknowledged within 3 days. You will be given an explanation once an investigation has been carried out by the health provider’s complaints department.

Stage 2 – Independent Review

Either through your request or the order of the complaints manager, an independent organisation can be summoned to help resolve the case.

  • PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) — a service to help people maximise their benefit from using the NHS.
  • ICAS (Independent Complaints Advocacy Service) — a service designed to empower people wishing to make complaints about service received from the NHS.

Stage 3 – Parliamentary And Health Service Ombudsman

If your complaint has still not successfully been resolved you can contact the Health Service Ombudsman, who acts independently of the government and the health service. Usually the Ombudsman will only investigate cases which have first been through the NHS complaints procedure.

Litigation After Making A Complaint

The NHS complaints procedure was put in place with a view to avoiding going to court. However, making a complaint through the procedure can give light to evidence which can be used to determine whether or not a compensation claim is viable. It has been known for Community Legal Service funding to be withheld from people making claims when they have not first followed the NHS procedure.

Private Patients

If you received the medical treatment as a private patient then the NHS complaints procedure is not open to you and you should complain directly to the professional who administered your treatment.