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Guide to Medical Negligence Complaints Procedure

While the majority of NHS care, treatment and procedures run smoothly, with individuals making a full recovery, sometimes mistakes happen and things go wrong. Patients might wish to make a complaint about the care they have received.
 
In 2017-18, there were 208,626 reported NHS complaints. The total value of NHS clinical negligence claims amounted to £2,227.5m   

How to make a complaint

If you have concerns with the NHS care you have received at a hospital you have a right to make a complaint. The NHS has a complaints process.
 
Your first step should be to speak directly to the organisation or medical professional who provided the care, treatment or service. 
 
Talk to a member of staff (doctor, dentist, nurse, or practice manager – for example) and they may resolve the issue without the need for a formal complaint.

What is PALS? 

A Patient Advice and Liaison Service – or PALS – is usually your first point of contact when making an informal complaint directly to the NHS.
 
These are usually based in your local hospital and offer completely confidential advice and information. 
 
They can also give you advice on the procedure for making a more formal complaint, if they can’t help resolve the issue themselves. 

Making a formal NHS complaint

If you are still dissatisfied or the PALS contact can’t help, you can start a formal complaint. 
 
Every NHS service has its own complaints procedure, with details usually found in the building where you or your loved one was treated, online or through staff members. 
 
You can start a complaint through writing, emailing or speaking to the NHS service you used, or NHS service provider directly. 
 
If you’re complaining about primary care services, contact NHS England directly. 

Timeline for NHS complaints

After you’ve made your initial complaint, the NHS must acknowledge they’ve received your complaint within three working days. 
 
The acknowledgement will also include details of how they intend to handle your complaint and a rough estimate of how long it is expected to take. 
 
Alternatively, they might decline the chance to discuss the issue with you and instead offer an end date for the resolution of the complaint. 
 
All complaints will be handled within a ‘reasonable time’, though there is no official limit on how long it can take to resolve your issue.
 
If you are still unhappy with the outcome or the time line, you can take your complaint further to the Health Service Ombudsman . This is completely separate from the NHS.

Outcome of a complaint

A formal complaint to the NHS won’t result in the doctor being disciplined – but it can ensure recommendations are made to the doctor to improve their practice. 
 
If information discovered in the investigation is serious, it can lead to disciplinary action and the involvement of the General Medical Council.

Who can make an NHS complaint?  

An NHS complaint can be made by the patient, someone affected, such as their representative, or a person who has been impacted by the actions of an organisation connected with the NHS or primary care practitioner. 
 
This includes patients in NHS hospitals and those in a private hospital when the treatment is funded by the NHS.
 
You can make an NHS complaint on behalf of a patient or individual, so long as the patient gives their consent. 

What can I make a complaint about?

NHS complaints can be made based on a wide variety of concerns. 
 
Some of the main complaints include:
 
  • Receiving an incorrect diagnosis and/or treatment
  • An unreasonable delay in diagnosis and treatment
  • Failure to provide proper pain relief, nutrition and hydration
  • A medical product failing to work
  • Clinical or hospital negligence leading to personal injury
  • Behaviour of NHS staff (including poor or lack of communication)
  • Cleanliness of the hospital or healthcare facilities
  • Issues of consent, discrimination and confidentiality
 
These are the most common causes of complaints, but there are more  viable NHS complaints you can make. 

How long do I have to file a complaint?

You should complain within 12 months of the date of the event that you're complaining about – or as soon as the matter first came to your attention. 
 
An NHS primary care practitioner or complaints manager can sometimes extend the time limit for complaining. For example, if you were grieving or undergoing treatment.

NHS Complaints FAQs

Will my current treatment be affected by my case? 

Neither your GP nor the hospital have a right to refuse to treat you because you have made a complaint or are suing them. But as you need to feel confident you’re getting the best treatment, it’s sometimes possible either you or your doctor will feel that it’s not appropriate for you to continue to be treated by them because of the breakdown in the relationship.
 
Doctors react differently, so you may need to be prepared for them to suggest you go elsewhere. In addition, you may not want to discuss issues potentially relevant to the claim (such as whether you are fit to return to work) with the doctor who is your opponent. It may be easier for both of you to seek treatment elsewhere.
 
In the case of your GP, you can choose to see another member of the practice or register with a different practice. In the case of the hospital, you can be treated by a different doctor at the same hospital or be referred elsewhere.

Can I take action against a specific doctor?

Yes – if you want to take disciplinary action against a specific doctor or 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 (NMC). The GMC and NMC will consider cases relating to serious professional misconduct and criminal offences.

Can I make a complaint on behalf of a relative?

Yes – you can make a complaint about staff and medical or hospital negligence on behalf of a relative with their consent. If a relative has a learning disability, autism or both, the Ask Listen Do project has further information about making a complaint on their behalf. 

What should I do if I am unhappy about the outcome? 

If you feel your official NHS negligence complaint was not dealt with or resolved properly, you can take it one step further by contacting the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). This is an independent service that’s free for anyone to use. They make the final decision about unresolved complaints regarding the NHS in England.

Should you have a public health service complaint and are dissatisfied with the outcome, contact the Local Government Ombudsman instead. 

Can I make a complaint about private treatment?

You can make a complaint – but check and follow the complaints system at your private hospital. If you received NHS care in a private hospital and don’t want to complain directly to the hospital, contact the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). They buy or commission hospital services, including treatment, and have a duty of care to follow up your complaint.   

You can still complain to the PHSO for private treatment, as they are independent of the NHS and government.

Are there any further options?

The Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS) can also help people issuing a formal complaint about the NHS. This is a free, impartial and independent service that helps identify options for taking forward claims. ICAS can’t help with private healthcare treatment or services, discipline or dismiss NHS staff. 

Find out more about medical negligence or discuss your complaint with one of our expert solicitors by calling 020 7650 1200 or contact Leigh Day online. 

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