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Legal 500

NHS Complaints Procedure

NHS Patients have a legal right to request copies of their medical records and, if they are unhappy about their treatment, submit a formal complaint that NHS Hospital Trusts are obliged to fully investigate with a formal written response. 

An official NHS Complaint Response is likely to help our team of expert medical negligence lawyers assess the strength of any negligence claim for compensation.

Click here for information about Medical Negligence compensation claims.

What is the NHS Complaints Policy?

Your right to submit a formal NHS Complaint is set out in the NHS Constitution. 

Within this document, the NHS state that they will investigate a complaint and will specifically respond to the concerns a patient raises about their treatment.  If sub-standard treatment has been provided, NHS Trusts should tell the patient and explain why this happened and what impact this will have on their health. 

Why make an NHS Complaint?

The NHS Complaints Procedure is one of the first opportunities for a patient to find about their treatment and whether this was sub-standard.  A complaint response from the NHS may be very helpful for our medical negligence solicitors to assess whether a claim for financial compensation is likely to succeed or not. 

It is also important to the NHS that it obtains honest feedback from patients and if concerns are raised these need to be investigated.  If sub-standard care is found following an investigation the patient or their family need to be told about this and the NHS needs to learn from mistakes and ensure they are not repeated.

What is the Duty of Candour?

NHS Healthcare providers have specific legal duties to inform patients when treatment goes wrong and harm is caused.  To conform with these Duties of Candour they must be open and transparent with a patient and provide an honest explanation about what has happened and an apology, if appropriate.

The Duty of Candour should be at the forefront of a Hospital’s investigation into an NHS Complaint.  

How to make an NHS Complaint?

If a patient wishes to make a formal complaint through the NHS Complaints Procedure they are normally required to write a letter to the Hospital Trust’s complaints department.  An address should be found on the Hospital’s website.

In the alternative, a complaint can be submitted verbally to the Hospital. They are obliged to take a written note of this and provide the patient with a copy.  We encourage patients to submit a written NHS Complaint based on our experience. 

We recommend our clients read the detailed information on the Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) website about how to make a NHS Complaint.  This can be found by clicking here which will open a new webpage for you to read. 

What to write in a formal NHS Complaint?

A patient’s complaint letter should provide an account of what has happened.  This should include the location, ward, names of doctors/nurses, if possible, and the dates.  It should then set out your concerns about any treatment and what outcome you want from the NHS Complaints process.  If, for example, you want a fully independent review of your treatment carried out by someone not involved with the Hospital, you should state this.  It is also important that you explain within the letter whether you have already been told anything about your treatment, for instance, from your treating medical staff, such as any apologises. 

A link to a template letter of complaint on the AvMA website can be found here.

How long will it take to respond to my NHS Complaint?

Typically, in the region of 3-4 months but there is no set timeframe and the complexity of any Complaint and the investigation will determine timeframes.

Is there a time limit for making an NHS Complaint?   

Yes, NHS Complaints should be lodged no later than 12 months after the treatment in question first occurred.  This is so that the NHS can speak to health-care professionals involved when the incident is fresh in their minds to properly respond and address the concerns raised by a patient in their NHS Complaint. 

If more than 12 months have passed, telephone the NHS Hospital Complaints team, explain the reason for the delay and ask them to agree to an investigation. 

How will the Hospital respond to my Complaint?

A patient will receive an acknowledgement letter confirming receipt of their NHS Complaint within 3 working days.  This letter should clearly set out what the Hospital intends to investigate and how long this is likely to take them.  They should then keep a patient updated with progress and explain any delays. 

The Hospital will be guided by the patient on what information they provide once an Investigation into an NHS Complaint has been concluded.  Often, a patient is invited to a meeting with the Hospital staff to discuss the investigation following which a formal written response will be sent to them.  In some cases, where there has been an independent review, a report may be sent to a patient.

Can I obtain compensation through the NHS Complaints Procedure?

It is very unusual for a patient to be offered financial compensation directly by a Hospital Trust in response to an NHS Complaint.  Although a Hospital investigation and response may be very helpful for a medical negligence claim (identifying specific failings in medical care, often, with expert input, for example) any mistakes identified do not automatically translate into a formal admission of liability for medical negligence, which is much harder to establish. 

Click here for information about Medical Negligence compensation claims.

How to complain about my GP?

Some GP Practices may come within the NHS Constitution and are therefore required to follow the same NHS Complaint Procedure rules as Hospital Trusts. 

In any event, most GP Practices have clear complaint procedures published on their websites and information should be easily available within their Practices.

A patient complaining about a GP should follow a similar pathway to that of an NHS Complaint and set out, clearly, in writing, their concerns about treatment.  A GP Practice will then be obliged, either by the NHS Constitution, or by their own specific Complaints policy, to investigate and respond to a patient’s complaint. 

How to complain about Private Medical Care? 

Unless Private Medical Care was paid for by the NHS, private Hospitals are not governed by the NHS Constitution.  Patients wishing to lodge a formal complaint against Private Hospitals should therefore ask for complaints policy information.

It is likely, as with GP Practices, that Private Hospitals will in any event investigate a patient’s concerns if submitted to the Hospital clearly in writing within a reasonable timeframe after the treatment in question first occurred.

How we can help you?

Our team of experienced medical negligence solicitors will be able to discuss the NHS or other complaint processes with you.  We can help guide you through the NHS Complaints procedure or with a complaint against your GP or a Private Hospital so that your concerns are properly addressed and investigated.  

In many new medical negligence claims, we encourage patients to consider the NHS Complaints Procedure so that they can seek to obtain answers about the care they received, which, in turn, helps our lawyers to advise them whether it is likely they can pursue an NHS medical negligence claim for NHS compensation.

NHS Complaints Regulation is a crucial part of the NHS obtaining feedback from their patients about the services they provide.  It covers all areas of NHS care and is crucial for their healthcare staff and management to learn lessons from errors. 

How to contact us?

If you or someone you know wants to pursue a complaint against the NHS, a GP or Private Hospital, and would like to discuss the NHS Complaints Procedure and a potential negligence claim for clinical negligence compensation, speak direct to our team of leading solicitors by calling us on 0113 245 8549 or complete the Ask Us A Question or Get in Touch Forms.