How to make a complaint

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1 The Patients Association PO Box 935, Harrow, Middlesex,HA1 3YJ How to make a complaint Patients Association PO Box 935, Harrow Middlesex HA1 3YJ Monday Friday 09:00 17:30 Helpline:

2 Introduction Most patients and their relatives are happy with the healthcare they receive in this country, but occasionally things go wrong. When this happens it is vital that patients know where and whom to turn to make their complaint heard. This guide is intended to give you the options available to ensure your complaint is heard, investigated and addressed. The NHS Constitution enshrines your right to complain. It gives you the right to have your complaint heard and properly investigated. It also allows you to take the complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if you re not satisfied with the way it is being dealt with. It also contains legal protections so you can ask for a judicial review if you ve been directly affected by an unlawful act and receive compensation if you ve been harmed. If you have any questions or have any doubts about what is being said then please contact The Patients Association Helpline, , who may be able to assist you with your complaint. This can include communicating your concerns directly to your care provider, and supporting you through the complaints process. 2 P a g e

3 When should I make a complaint? We feel that a complaint should always be made if you are unhappy with the treatment you have received. You should never be put off making a complaint because you don t want to make a fuss or because you don t want to get someone into trouble. The complaints procedure is an important tool for healthcare providers to identify where they are going wrong in their delivery and so benefits everyone who uses their service. What should I do first of all? Phoning our Helpline can be a useful first step due to the often complex nature of healthcare complaints. It may assist you with understanding the intricacies of the system and help you identify what you are hoping for from your complaint. Complaints within either an NHS or private hospital should initially be discussed with the people on the ward to see if the matter can be resolved by speaking with them face to face. This would have to be either the Ward Manager or the lead clinician in charge of your care. At a GP surgery you should always try and resolve the matter with the GP first of all. You may also want to contact The Patients Association, who can assist you in contacting the healthcare provider. To find 3 P a g e

4 out more information on this please see page 12 of booklet or call I have already tried these, can I escalate the matter? Yes, following those attempts (or before if you don t feel you can approach anyone on the ward or your GP about the matter) you can begin the formal complaints process. NHS Hospitals: For NHS Hospitals we recommend initially contacting the Chief Executive of the Hospital or Trust under which it is managed. Their name and where they are based can be easily obtained through the switchboard. Alternatively if you call our Helpline we will be more than happy to provide the details. GP Surgery: Formal complaints should go through the Practice Manager. They will then investigate the complaint. If your complaint involves the Practice Manager then you should talk to your GP about the fact you are making one so that someone else is aware that you will be approaching them with a complaint. Private Hospital: Private Hospitals will have their own complaints procedure. However as a general rule we would again advise contacting the Chief Executive or Medical Director locally. As with NHS Hospitals this will hopefully lead to the complaint being passed to the best possible person to handle the complaint. 4 P a g e

5 They aren t investigating the matter or, are dragging their feet, can anything be done? NHS Care: Yes, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) can investigate cases. They have very strict criteria to meet to get them to investigate. It is worth noting that they won t investigate a complaint unless they have given the care provider an opportunity to put things right first. So you need to demonstrate that you have at least complained to them and given them a reasonable time to respond before approaching the PHSO. You can find out more about the PHSO process by visiting their website or by contacting their Helpline on I m concerned by a matter that happened several years ago, can I still complain? This depends on the nature of the complaint. NHS: In regards to making a standard complaint about your care to the NHS you only have 12 months from the date of the incident, or from when you were made aware of the incident, to launch a complaint. This is a rule that many hospitals and trusts are abiding by, however it is not a requirement that they do so. If they are 5 P a g e

6 still able to investigate a complaint they may still consider it, however they are under no obligation to do so. They may also consider investigating a complaint if there are exceptional extenuating circumstances ie. you have experienced major trauma and it took you a long time to recover. We always recommend making a complaint as soon as possible, to avoid the chances of facts being disputed and the process taking longer to resolve. Private care: The system will vary from provider to provider and so you will need to check with them. We would recommend familiarising yourself with the procedures before your care even takes place. There is unlikely to be any problems but it is better to make yourself aware so as not to delay any future complaint whilst trying to obtain this information. Some private care providers are registered with the Independent Healthcare Advisory Service (IHAS) a trade body for private providers and they can be contacted if you have a complaint. They have a range of sanctions available to them, including removal of membership. They can be contacted on P a g e

7 What do I do if the matter is serious enough to call into question a healthcare professionals professional integrity? This would be a matter for the regulatory body of the profession in question. All doctors practicing in the UK are required to register with the General Medical Council. They have a legislative responsibility to take action when questions arise about a doctor s fitness to practise. They can stop or limit a doctor s ability to practice medicine in the UK, as well as issue a warning which will appear on their record for five years after the incident. You have up to five years to make a complaint to the GMC, unless there are exceptional reasons in the public interest for opening an investigation beyond this period. Please note: they are not able to provide financial recompense or force a doctor to apologise or give you the treatment you request. Nurses and Midwives have a similar institution for themselves called the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). They similarly can remove the person from the register either permanently or for a set period of time. The NMC has no specific time limit on its complaints process, though it encourages you to make a complaint as quickly as possible. 7 P a g e

8 Other healthcare professionals may be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC). They protect certain job titles from misuse and carefully monitor their own registers. The job titles they can investigate complaints about are: Arts therapists, biomedical scientists, chiropodists / podiatrists, clinical scientists, dieticians, hearing aid dispensers, occupational therapists, operating department practitioners, orthoptists, paramedics, physiotherapists, practitioner psychologists, prosthetists/orthotists, radiographers, speech and language therapists. The HPC operates similarly to the NMC in that it has no official time limit, but again encourages complainants to make their concerns known as soon as possible. Each one has its own complaints procedure and we recommend contacting them directly to discuss whether your complaint fits the criteria of a regulatory body. You can alternatively contact our Helpline and we will do our best to assist with your enquiry. We would also recommend that you still contact the Hospital Chief Executive/Medical Director or the Practice Manager to keep them abreast of the situation. What if I am unsatisfied with all of these attempts to resolve the matter? If you are still unsatisfied once a decision has been taken by the PHSO or the regulatory body involved you can seek a judicial review. This means you challenge the decision of the 8 P a g e

9 NHS body or the Secretary of State for Health on the basis that it is unlawful. Can I pursue legal action before? I am seeking compensation. Yes, the rules have changed and now you can pursue an NHS complaint locally at the same time as taking legal action. This is only true up to the point of the approaching the Ombudsman. Once you begin legal action, if your case is with the Ombudsman it will be suspended pending the outcome of any legal case. However the investigation will resume once this has concluded. We are unable to recommend a specific solicitor or firm, however you are able to access a list whom specialise in medical negligence by contacting The Law Society on P a g e

10 Tips when making a healthcare complaint Keep detailed notes Healthcare complaints can become confused and complicated very quickly. We recommend that you keep detailed accounts of incidents so that you are always sure of the facts and dates. Be concise Whilst it might be important to put some things in context if you are complaining about your treatment six months ago, but you are annoyed by what happened in the same hospital years earlier, it is worth focusing on the current complaint, so as not to confuse the investigator. If it doesn t add anything to the complaint don t mention it. However, remember to include patients full name, NHS number, and dates of hospital stay. Explain what you are hoping the outcome of the complaint will be We are finding more and more often that hospitals are willing to accept when the care has fallen below what people consider to be adequate. If this is all you are looking for then they may be able to acknowledge this in initial correspondence. However if you are looking for something else, (ie. For them to show they are training staff regarding the handling of a specific type of patient), then mention it specifically. This way they are able to address this directly. 10 P a g e

11 Follow their procedures We accept that healthcare complaints can be an extremely emotive issue, and many people find it hard to pursue. However, if they ask some questions where they need a response within a specified number of days, then it is best to acknowledge this and do your best to adhere to it. Failing to do this will ultimately only delay, suspend or jeopardise the investigation. Get a copy of your medical records Obtaining a copy of your medical records as soon after, if not before, a complaint is made is incredibly important. We unfortunately hear from callers who frequently explain that part of their medical records have gone missing once they have launched a complaint. For more information on accessing your medical records please contact our Helpline on Seek support of friends and family It is always a good idea to discuss healthcare complaints with a professional or expert, however friends and family can provide the emotional support that others cannot. Often discussing the case with loved ones can help a complainant identify what they are looking to get out of a complaint and how to cope with the distress it can cause. 11 P a g e

12 Assistance with healthcare complaints The Patients Association The Patients Association Helpline may be able to assist you in raising your concerns with a hospital, GP, Dentist or Social Care Provider. As a small independent charity we are not able to assist everybody that comes to us but for many we can make representations to the care provider on their behalf. Please call if you feel that this would be of assistance to you. Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS) ICAS was established to help patients through the complaints process. They can offer you support and talk you through the complaints process and attend meetings with you and the hospital administrator. This service only exists for NHS complaints. This is contracted regionally and you can contact them by calling Citizens Advice Bureau The Citizens Advice Bureau can offer information and advice for those with complaints about healthcare. To find your local branch then please call P a g e

13 Patient Advice and Liaison (PALs) The PALs service significantly varies in quality from hospital to hospital. As such we always advise people to make formal complaints to the Chief Executive. However, they can be a great source of information. For example finding out visiting hours and car parking charges. 13 P a g e

14 About the Patients Association The Patients Association is a healthcare charity which for almost 50 years has advocated for greater and equitable access to high quality, accurate and independent information for patients, for greater and equitable access to high quality care and for involvement in decision making as a right. The charity provides an opportunity for patients to share their experiences of healthcare so that the Patients Association can use this knowledge to press for improved services and assist people in accessing the best treatment. Our Helpline acts as an informed and independent source of information for patients. How can you help? The Patients Association is a small charity that heavily relies on the support of members and donations and legacies from the public to carry out its vital work. We also receive support from corporate members. If you would like to become a supporter of the Patients Association for 20 a year, please visit the web address below: 14 P a g e

15 Or contact us directly for an application form: Patients Association PO Box 935 Harrow Middlesex HA1 3YJ Enquiries regarding corporate membership should be directed in the same manner. You can become an E-Member free of charge. You will receive our weekly health news round-up and have the chance to participate in our surveys. To become an E- Member please visit the web address below: Patients Guide How to make a complaint Published by the Patients Association Revised Edition, January 2012 Registered Charity Number: Registered in Cardiff Number: P a g e

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