Most medical care and treatment goes well, but things occasionally go wrong, and you may want to complain. So where do you start? Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure. To find out about it, ask a member of staff, look on the hospital or trust's website, or contact the complaints department for more information.
You may want to make positive comments on the care and services that you've received. These comments are just as important because they tell NHS organisations which factors are contributing to a good experience for patients.
What are my rights?
If you're not happy with the care or treatment you've received or you've been refused treatment for a condition, you have the right to complain, have your complaint investigated, and be given a full and prompt reply.
The NHS Constitution explains your rights when it comes to making a complaint. You have the right to:
- have your complaint dealt with efficiently, and properly investigated,
- know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint,
- take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if you're not satisfied with the way the NHS has dealt with your complaint,
- make a claim for judicial review if you think you've been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body, and
- receive compensation if you've been harmed.
Who should I complain to?
You can complain either to the service that you're unhappy with, or you can complain to your local primary care trust (PCT) that commissioned the service.
When should I complain?
As soon as possible. Complaints should normally be made 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.
The time limit can sometimes be extended (so long as it's still possible to investigate the complaint). An extension might be possible, such as in situations where it would have been difficult for you to complain earlier, for example, when you were grieving or undergoing trauma.
Where do I start?
Since April 2009, the NHS has run a simple complaints process, which has two stages.
- Ask your hospital or trust for a copy of its complaints procedure, which will explain how to proceed. Your first step will normally be to raise the matter (in writing or by speaking to them) with the practitioner, e.g. the nurse or doctor concerned, or with their organisation, which will have a complaints manager. This is called local resolution, and most cases are resolved at this stage.
- If you're still unhappy, you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is independent of the NHS and government. Call 0345 015 4033
Who can help?
Making a complaint can be daunting, but help is available.
Patient Advice and Liaison Service
Officers from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) are available in all hospitals. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters to patients, their families and their carers. You can find your local PALS office at the Office Directory at PALS Online.
Independent Complaints Advocacy Service
The Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS) is a national service that supports people who wish to make a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. Contact your local ICAS office through the hospital manager or PALS, or by calling the following numbers:
- London: 0300 456 2370
- South East: 0845 600 8616
- Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire: 0300 456 2370
- Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk: 0300 456 2370
- Essex: 0300 456 2370
- South West: 0845 120 3782
- West Midlands: 0300 456 2370
- East Midlands: 0300 456 8347
- North East: 0300 456 8348
- North West: 0300 456 8350
- Yorkshire and Humberside: 0300 456 8349
Citizens Advice Bureau
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can be a great source of advice and support if you want to complain about the NHS, social services or local authorities. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau on its website.
NHS Direct can advise on NHS complaints. Call 0845 4647.
The Public Law Project’s website includes a guide to making a complaint.