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How do I make a complaint about the National Health Service (NHS)?

For any patient that receives substandard care or treatment from the National Health Service (NHS), it is important that formal complaints procedures are followed to ensure that the errors are officially recognised and to help minimise future occurrences. Following complaint processes can also help support any claim for medical negligence compensation that you later decide to make.

Some people may feel uncomfortable or guilty about making a complaint against the NHS, but it is important to recognise that you are legally entitled to raise concerns and seek compensation for any suffering caused to you. What is more, by making a formal complaint, you are increasing the awareness of any potential vulnerabilities within the health service and in turn, minimising the risk of future errors.

NHS Complaints Procedure Stages

The law specifies that all NHS Trusts, GPs and health authorities must have formal complaint procedures in place and these should be clearly communicated to all patients. In order to manage and process any complaints efficiently, many establishments have a specified Complaints Manager.

Patients who have suffered errors or malpractice by medical practitioners are legally entitled to make a complaint and a claim for compensation. It is advisable for patients to initiate their complaint as soon as possible to ensure that the details of the incident are readily recollected. What is more, the NHS has stringent time limits in place for complaints to be raised and this means that patients must raise their complaint within 12 months of the date of the event or from the time that they became aware of the error.

The NHS complaints process should be the initial stage in a patient’s attempt to claim compensation as currently, the NHS does not process complaints if a medical negligence claim has already begun. Therefore, the complaints process should begin prior to the hiring of a solicitor.

The following stages are those that are included in the formal NHS complaints process, and these are required to be communicated to you when the complaint is raised.

Stage One – Local Resolution

Local resolution is the term given to the first stage of the NHS complaints procedure and aims to reach a resolution to a complaint as quickly and amicably as possible. The patient should contact the responsible figure within the establishment such as the Complaints Manager, either in writing or vocally. A written complaint should be acknowledged within 3 days of receipt, and an explanation for the error or event will be forwarded to you once a thorough investigation has been undertaken.

Stage Two – Independent Review

An independent organisation can be requested to review your complaint, either by yourself or the Complaints Manager who is handling your case. The organisation can be summoned if the complaint has not reached a resolution through Stage One and they can help support you in reaching completion of the case. The two main bodies that are used in this instance are:

  • PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) – PALS main objective is to ensure that patients and their families are able to obtain the best from their NHS treatment and services and can help to explain processes and determine whether sub-standard services have been suffered.
  • ICAS (Independent Complaints Advocacy Service) – ICAS was established to empower those who feel that they have grounds for making a complaint about the services and treatment that they received from the NHS.

Stage Three – Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

If a successful resolution is not reached through Stage One or Two, you are entitled to contact the Health Service Ombudsman for support. The Ombudsman acts independently from the NHS and the government and seeks to recognise areas of fault and malpractice to reach a resolution to the complaint. The Ombudsman will normally only investigate a complaint which has first been through the NHS complaints procedure.

Additional independent advice and support is offered through the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, who will help patients to determine whether the care that they received fell below the levels that could be reasonably expected and can offer direction as to the most efficient way to initiate a formal complaint.

Can I claim compensation after a complaint to the NHS?

Any person who feels that they have suffered damage or loss because of the actions or errors of a medical professional is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation. The NHS complaints procedure was set up with the view to avoiding court cases.

By following the NHS complaints procedure, patients are also well placed to have a better understanding of the levels of care and the treatment that they received, and this can be incredibly helpful to solicitors when managing a case for compensation. For that reason, it is advisable to process the formal complaint prior to appointing a legal firm for compensation purposes.

* Personal injury claims are offered on a no win, no fee basis. If your claim is successful, your solicitor will receive up to 25% of your compensation as their success fee. Any additional costs, such as legal protection insurance, will be clearly explained to you by your solicitor before you decide to proceed with your claim. Termination fees may apply if you fail to cooperate with your solicitor. This includes deliberately misleading your solicitor, failing to attend scheduled medical or expert examinations, or not appearing at a required court hearing.