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Alternatives to a legal case

I have been advised to use the complaints procedure, but surely the hospital will stick up for its own staff and they won’t really be punished?
The aim of the complaints procedure is to ensure that poor treatment is identified and improved and that dissatisfied patients receive an assurance of this, an apology, or an explanation of what happened in their case. 

The complaints procedure itself will not result in the doctor being disciplined although it may result in recommendations being made to the doctor for the improvement of their practice.  If faults in the system are identified (eg inadequate training is responsible for the doctor's error, or blood for emergency use is not clearly labelled) these should be rectified.  In some cases however facts discovered by the investigation might lead to an individual being disciplined and, for example the General Medical Council may become involved.

The complaints procedure will not award you financial compensation for your injuries although sometimes small voluntary payments may be offered. As things currently stand, once you decide to investigate a potential claim for clinical negligence, you cannot pursue the complaints procedure.  However there is nothing to stop you making a complaint first to find out a bit more about what happened and whether anyone was probably at fault, and then consulting a solicitor.  In most cases this is a good idea particularly if you might make an application for public funding at some point in the future

Public funding (legal aid) is not available for any work done by a solicitor in making a complaint on your behalf.

Does the complaints procedure apply to all doctors?
No.  It applies to NHS staff in all areas (GPs, hospital doctors, nursing staff or ambulance crew).  It does not apply to private medicine.  If your complaint is about care in a private hospital then you should ask for a copy of the relevant complaints procedure.

What will happen once I have made my complaint?
The hospital Complaints Manager will investigate the complaint and act within certain time limits.  The regulations say that the response must be sent to the Complainant within 20 working days or, if this is not possible, as soon as is reasonably practical.

Tell me more about the NHS complaints system
The current system is governed by the NHS (Complaints) Regulations 2004 and amended in 2006.

In cases where treatment has been provided in a NHS hospital, it is often advisable to pursue a complaint through the NHS Complaints Procedure.  You have a right to complain if you are dissatisfied with the service or treatment you have received.  You need to ask your Trust for a copy of its complainst procedure and, if you feel you need help with the complaint or the procedure you should contact your Trust’s Patient Advice and Liason Service (PALS) or look at www.pals.nhs.uk.  You might also want to get help from an advocate from the Independent Complaints and Advocacy Service. Please look at www.icassoutheast.org.uk.  This website contains information so that you can find an advocate in your area.

The onus is to settle complaints quickly, however, cases where the facts or issues are complicated will probably take a while to resolve.  You must make the complaint within six months of the incident, otherwise the Trust may not look at the issues you raise. 

If you are not content with the Trust’s reply then you have the right to ask that the Healthcare Commission to review the complaint.  You must do this within six months of the end of the hospital complaint.

Is there anything more that can be done without litigation?
Yes.  If you believe that your case has still not been dealt with properly you can ask The Health Service Commissioner (the Ombudsman) to become involved.

I was treated in a private hospital.  Do they have a complaints system?
Your private hospital probably has its own complaints system and you should ask to see it.  There is a useful guide for patients who wish to make a complaint produced by the Independent Healthcare Advisory Services.

I don’t really want to take legal action but I’m not happy with the outcome of the complaints procedure. What other action can I take?
First of all you can refer your case to the health services commissioner or ombudsman (see above).

If you are seeking disciplinary action against an individual member of staff, you should complain to the professional body who holds their registration.  For doctors, this will be the General Medical Council(GMC).  For nurses and midwives, this will be the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The GMC and NMC will consider cases relating to serious professional misconduct and criminal offences.

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