Making a Claim against the NHS
Most of the time, we visit our GP, or go into Hospital, and we get the advice and treatment we are looking for. From time to time, though, things can go wrong. Depending on how serious the effects are when treatment has gone wrong, you may want an explanation, an apology or to stop the same thing happening to someone else. You may want some action to be taken against a particular individual who has been involved in your care or treatment. These are all the intended outcomes when bringing a complaint to the NHS. You may also want some compensation, which is the time that you will involve a lawyer, such as our experts at IBB.
A complaint can be raised at the same time and in either case, it is always best not to delay taking action. Complaints made to the NHS should be made within 12 months of the event in question and there are also specific time limits that apply to legal claims for compensation (though the time limit here is longer than 12 months from the event taking place).
The following information relates to complaints made to an NHS service, such as to a GP or Hospital. Complaints to private healthcare providers, social services or care homes are dealt with differently, but you may find the initial steps to be useful in any event.
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Before making any complaint to the NHS, we would suggest that you write down a chronology (i.e. in date order) of the events leading up to the point you reached when you decided to raise a complaint. Try to include the date and time, if possible, where things happened, who you spoke to at the time and afterwards about it. Your notes will help the person processing your complaint and will also help you to remember things at a later stage if you are asked for any further information.
If you want some help with making a complaint, the NHS Choices website has some helpful information, and most hospitals have a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) where you can speak to someone for confidential advice and support.
It is always useful to keep hold of copies of any documents and letters you may send in relation to your complaint, just in case something goes astray, or you want to refer the complaint onwards if you are not satisfied by the response you receive.
It is suggested that you speak to the person or treatment provider first, informally, as there could be a straightforward solution. If that does not satisfy you, then you can ask them for details of the complaints procedure that applies to the service, i.e. your GP surgery or the Hospital.
PALS also provides help in situations where you are concerned that something has gone wrong at Hospital, by helping to resolve those concerns or by directing you to appropriate points of contact and procedures for bringing your complaint.
In making your complaint, whether that is by way of a written complaint or not, you should go back to your original notes taken about what happened, to give a clear and concise explanation of what you believe has gone wrong. Make sure that you explain what you want to achieve in making your complaint, such as an apology, an explanation or some form of disciplinary action against a particular individual.
Again, you can go back to PALS to ask them to read through or listen to the points you intend to raise, or you can look to the NHS Complaints Advocacy Service offered by your local authority if you need similar support for a complaint to a different service. In fact, your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau can help guide you if you need further support from outside your family and friends.
An investigation will be made into your complaint and it is likely to take some time. You may receive a letter, setting out a response to your complaint, or you may be invited to a meeting to discuss the details of your complaint, following which a written response should be provided.
It may be the case that the explanation you receive is enough to satisfy you. You may receive an apology, or their explanation may help you come to terms with what happened even if it shows that the NHS service did not do anything wrong and the harm could not be avoided.
If you have instructed a lawyer by that stage to deal with a claim for compensation, the outcome of the complaint will be useful for your case. Your lawyers will want to see the written response and any other relevant documents and they may be able to guide you with what to do next.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your complaint (where it relates to the NHS in England) you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is independent of the NHS and government.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Tel: 0345 015 4033