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What should happen when you make a complaint about NHS services

This advice applies to England

The care you receive from the NHS is usually very good and most people don’t have any problems. But occasionally things can go wrong. This page tells you what should happen when you make a complaint.

Investigating the complaint

Once you’ve made a complaint under the local resolution procedure, it must be investigated so that the problem can be sorted out quickly and efficiently. You should also be kept informed, as far as reasonably possible, about how the investigation is going.

The complaints manager has to ask you if you want a meeting to discuss the problem further. You can ask to talk over the meeting with the complaints manager beforehand. You may want to ask:

  • what form the meeting will take
  • who will be there. This will depend on the circumstances of the complaint. You may not feel comfortable facing staff members who have been involved in the incident in question. Or you may be disappointed to find that the staff involved can’t come to the meeting
  • where the meeting will be held and how long it will take. This is important if you’re still recovering from an illness as you may not feel able to attend the whole meeting. You can tell the complaints manager in advance if you have any difficulties with this.

It’s a good idea to make a list of your questions for any meeting and to give a copy of this to the complaints manager before the meeting - keep a copy to take with you.

At the meeting, you could ask them to take further steps to sort out the problem, for example, you could ask for more investigations or a closer look at the medical records. Another option is to ask the hospital to consider getting or paying for an independent report from a medical expert which can be helpful in sorting out any dispute about the medical issues about your complaint.

Don’t agree with anything at the meeting that you’re not sure about.

Think about taking a friend, relative or advocate to the meeting to support you and take notes. In a serious case where legal issues are involved, you could take your solicitor to the meeting, but you’d usually have to pay the solicitor.

Response to the complaint

At the end of the investigation, the complaints manager must prepare a written response and send it to you. This response should:

  • give an explanation of how the complaint was looked at
  • say what the conclusions are, including any action that’s needed to sort out the problem
  • confirm that any action needed has been taken or will be taken
  • give details of your right to take your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

They should send you this response within the timescale agreed at the meeting. This should be within a reasonable time. If they don’t respond within six months, they must notify you in writing and explain the reason for the delay. They must then send their response as soon as possible.

When you get the results of the investigation

Obviously the NHS can’t solve all the medical problems that you may have or go back in time to how things were before the events you’re complaining about. But they should try and answer all your concerns and try to provide as full an explanation as possible. If you think that they haven’t done this in their response, you can take the case to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

You may like to think about:

  • whether their response explains things in a way that you understand. If the reply contains too much medical jargon, you can ask for this to be put into ordinary language
  • whether they tell you how the investigation was carried out, for example, whether the staff involved in the problem were interviewed
  • whether they say sorry for the problem and, if so, whether their apologies are said in the appropriate language, with sincerity and tact
  • whether there any other matters you’re still concerned about.

Sometimes before they send you a formal response to your complaint, they may offer a further meeting to clarify any outstanding issues. This can be useful, and may help sort things out without the formality and delay involved in taking your complaint further. If you agree to a meeting, the same rules apply as with earlier meetings during local resolution - you will need to clarify what you’re still not happy about and why. However you don’t have to take up the option of a further meeting. Once you’ve been sent a formal response, you have the right to ask for an independent review by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman - see below.

If you're not happy with the response

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

If you're not happy with the response to your complaint, you may be able to complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, for example, if:

  • the organisation didn't respond to your complaint when they said they would
  • they have taken too long to get back to you
  • they didn't say sorry properly
  • they didn't investigate properly.

You could get legal advice about taking court action if your legal rights have been broken. For example, a GP mayhave discriminated against you because of your race when they handle a complaint you made about the treatment you got at the surgery. This is against the law.

Next steps

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