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Making complaints about medical care and treatment

02 Nov 2021

If you are concerned or unhappy with any aspect of care you or a family member have received from an NHS health care provider, you are entitled to make a complaint.

A complaint can be made through the NHS Complaint Procedure. Every NHS organisation has its own complaints procedure in place and the details of this can be found on the organisation’s website or by contacting the care provider or organisation directly.

Why complain?

The current complaints process is not a mechanism for obtaining compensation in respect of an injury or negligence suffered but can result in an explanation of what happened and a summary of any steps/action that will be taken to review or improve the standard of care they provide to their patients. The response to your complaint might also include a formal apology in respect of the care/treatment you or a family member have received.

When to complain

Complaints should be made as soon as possible and generally within 12 months of the date of incident. Organisations have discretion to extend this time period depending on the individual facts of the case but if you submit a complaint more than 12 months after the index events, the organisation may be unwilling or unable to provide a substantive response. In that instance, they should confirm this to you in writing and provide their reasons for that decision.

How to complain

Whilst complaints can be made verbally or in writing, it is often advisable to make a complaint in writing so there is a written record of your concerns. Depending on the organisation, some complaints can be submitted through an online portal on their website otherwise a letter can sent in the post or by email. It is a good idea to keep a copy of the letter of complaint and all of the letters you receive in response for your own record.

There is no formal structure that a letter of complaint must follow. However, it is helpful if a complaint includes the following:

  • Patient details (name, date of birth, NHS number if known) – this allows the organisation to identify the patient in question and refer to the patient’s medical records when considering and providing their response.
  • A brief summary of what has happened including dates and the names of clinicians involved (if known), when and where treatment was administered or care was provided.
  • Your specific concerns – this is your opportunity to explain why you are concerned about the treatment/care received. To focus the organisation’s response to your complaint, you can include a few questions in your letter which you specifically want the health provider to address in its response.
complaints about medical care

What happens next?

Once you submit a complaint, you should receive a letter/email acknowledging that the organisation has received your complaint. They should also provide a timescale for providing their response. If you don’t receive a response within that timescale, you can contact the organisation to ensure you receive a response as soon as possible.

In some instances, the health care provider may offer you a face-to-face meeting to discuss your complaint in person. There is no obligation to agree to an in person meeting and you can ask for the complaint to be dealt with solely in writing if you would prefer.

If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with the response you receive, you can refer your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is independent of the NHS and the Government and will review your complaint and confirm whether or not it is upheld.

Who can help?

If you need help making a complaint, the following organisations may be able to assist:

  • Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS). There is a PALS representative within each NHS hospital trust who can help you throughout the complaints process.
  • The Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS)

You can make a complaint through the NHS complaints procedure without getting a solicitor involved. However, if you have concerns about the process, are unsure if a complaint should be made, or would like to discuss the response you have received to a complaint, please get in touch to arrange a free initial telephone consultation to discuss this with you.