Posted On / 28.12.2017

Happy With Your Healthcare? Don’t be Afraid to Complain.

Hospitals and healthcare providers are central in our society and we rely on them to enable us to enjoy life to the full.  

Whilst recognising that much good work is done by individuals working in healthcare, sometimes there are errors with care and treatment and sometimes, those errors give rise to questions and concerns.  

If you have a question or are concerned about care or treatment you have received, or are receiving, raising a complaint is an important thing to do.   

Patients are very often worried whether complaining is the right thing to do and indeed whether it will affect their care going forwards.  Understandably, when patients are still having active treatment they are very anxious not to upset good relationships because of a complaint.    

Should I complain?

If you think that things have gone wrong and you are concerned about past treatment, or even your current treatment, complaining is a worthwhile thing.   

If your concerns relate to past treatment, your complaint will not only bring answers to your questions but, if poor care or treatment is identified, it will allow managers to look at internal problems and address these for the future.  Complaints can identify systemic failures and can only serve to make things better.  

If your concerns relate to current treatment, raising a complaint can provide the trigger to correct any current problems and ensure your care stays on the right track.  

Having made the decision to make a complaint, it is extremely important to do so properly.       

How Do I complain?  

There are a few ways of putting your complaint forward formally.  

If you are able, try to review the provider’s complaints system.  Most healthcare providers, whether that be a hospital trust, GP surgery or dental surgery will have their own complaints policy.   

You will be able to locate the details you need to direct your correspondence to the right place; there may even be online forms to make the process easier.   

Firstly, almost all hospital trusts will have a PALS (Patient Advice & Liaison Service).  The service is there to help you communicate your complaint.  PALS officers will discuss your concerns with the relevant staff.  As PALS officers are employees of the hospital, the complaint investigation will be restricted to an internal review and response.  

Alternatively, you can address your complaint formally to the lead manager of the healthcare provider, for hospitals you should address to the Chief Executive, for GPs it’s the Practice Manager.  

If you would prefer your complaint to involve help and advice from an outside party, there are a few options.   

  1. Solicitors.  We can help and advise in putting a complaint together.  We can identify the issues which are central to the incident and make sure that the questions you want to ask are put clearly and concisely.  There may be a fee depending on the circumstances and policy of the particular solicitors’ firm.  
  2. Advocacy Charities.  There are a number of advocacy charities across the country which can provide help free of charge.  Some of these specialise in preparing health service complaints.  If you live in Dorset you can use Dorset Advocacy.  If you live in Somerset you can use Swan Advocacy.  The advocacy charity may also be able to accompany you to any meetings.  
  3. Healthwatch.  This is a national independent consumer organisation set up to channel complaints, concerns and comments (positive and negative) about health and social care.  
  4. Citizens Advice Bureau.  The Citizens Advice Bureau is another charity which provides help with making complaints about healthcare.  The Citizens Advice Bureau has close links to Healthwatch and may refer you to them for help. 

Which option is better will really depend on the type of concern you want to raise.  If it is a concern about waiting times or cancelled procedures, using Healthwatch is probably a better option.  If your concern is more fundamental and has detrimentally affected your health in some way, we would advise seeking help from a solicitor or an advocacy charity.     

The Reply – Duty of Candour  

The key to obtaining a clear response is to ask clear questions.  If the replies are unclear – don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.  

The healthcare provider is likely to have a timescale to produce the response within their own policy.  Usual waiting times are 28 days for a full response.  

Healthcare providers in the NHS are required to respond and engage with complainants in an open and honest manner.  They are required to explain, inform, support and provide continuity of care.  The need to provide continuing care is very important as often patients who have had cause to complain will still need to access healthcare to get better.   

In addition, if there has been moderate harm to a patient, the ‘Duty of Candour’ which is incumbent on staff providing NHS services (including those in a care home setting) whether or not the patient complains, there is a duty on staff to inform the patient of that harm.   

Review your response to see if your questions have been answered fully.  If you have ongoing concerns, see our paragraph ‘Further Help’ below.    

Further Help  

If you are not satisfied with the response you receive and want to take things further, we would advise you to seek some initial advice from a solicitor.  They can consider your case and advise on all your options going forward including the possibility of legal claims or taking the case further with authorities including the Health Service Ombudsman or professional bodies such as the General Medical Council.  

Victoria Knightis a solicitor practising in clinical negligence and healthcare litigation. Locally based in offices across Somerset and Dorset, we provide accessible advice and assistance to those with concerns about their healthcare or the healthcare of a loved one.

Telephone: 01935 846131

Email: Victoria.knight@battens.co.uk