Updated May 2019
What is the best way to make a complaint to a hospital or GP if you are unhappy with the way you have been treated? Sharon Parsons of Coodes Solicitors’ Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence team gives her advice on making a formal complaint to a healthcare provider.
While we hear many stories from people who have received excellent care in hospital or from a GP, unfortunately things do not always go as well as they should. Perhaps you felt you were waiting for too long, that you were not treated respectfully or that mistakes were made. If you are left feeling unhappy about the way you have been treated in hospital, or by a GP or another healthcare provider, it is worth giving feedback on your experience. But what is the best way of doing this?
If you want to complain about your treatment while you are staying in an NHS hospital you can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). This is a confidential service that can help to resolve problems on your behalf. If you are in a private hospital, you should ask a member of staff who you can make a complaint to.
After you have left hospital or after visiting the GP you may be left feeling unhappy about your experience. The best way to give feedback at this stage is to write a letter of complaint to the Head of the relevant NHS Trust or, in the case of a GP, the practice manager. Make sure you keep a copy of your letter in a safe place so you can refer back to it later on.
Here are some tips to get this letter right:
You should receive an initial response acknowledging receipt of your letter and giving a timeframe for them to investigate and give you a full response. This letter should explain that an investigation is being carried out and name the person leading the process – this is usually a member of staff from another department. You may then receive another letter, saying the response has been delayed and giving a new date. This is nothing to worry about, it is likely that they are still trying to track down the key people to complete their investigations.
The hospital or GP surgery will interview the staff involved and prepare a formal report of their investigation.
In the full letter you should expect them to respond to all your key points and answer any of your questions. They may explain why things happened as they did, they may apologise, and they may outline what has been done, or will be done, to prevent something like this happening again.
If you are called to a meeting with the hospital or surgery, it is a good idea to attend. Meeting the staff involved and talking through what went wrong may be an emotional experience and you may not be able to focus or remember all the details. I would always recommend that you ask someone who is not close to the situation to accompany you so they can make notes. If you want to record the meeting, please advise the hospital staff that they are being recorded. If you fail to do so, the recording will not be admissible in any later proceedings.
If you do not feel the hospital or practice manager properly or adequately responded to your complaint, you can go back with another letter picking up the points you feel have not been addressed, including any questions they have not answered.
If you are still not satisfied then you can get external advice. A lawyer can advise you on whether you might be eligible for compensation or instead they may refer you to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who can investigate on your behalf.
So remember, you are entitled to complain if things are not as they should have been. For many people this is a way of getting recognition that they had a bad experience, receive an apology (though be aware that this is not always given). Importantly, it means that changes could be made so that other people do not go through the same problems in the future.