Unhappy about a relative’s treatment in hospital? How to make a complaint
If you are unhappy about a relative’s treatment in hospital, can you make a complaint to a hospital or GP surgery? Sharon Parsons of Coodes Solicitors’ Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence team shares her advice.
Most of us have a positive experience of being cared for in hospital or at a GP surgery. However, there are occasions when things do not go as they should. If a relative has experienced care that you feel is not up to standard, you may want to step in and make a complaint. Perhaps you are unhappy that their condition was not diagnosed or want to complain about poor communication, treatment or care.
Here is some advice on how to go about making a complaint on someone else’s behalf.
How do I complain on behalf of a relative?
A Hospital or GP cannot usually discuss your relative’s personal health information with you without their permission. If you are complaining on behalf of someone who is still alive you will need their permission in a signed form of authority. You can request a form from the hospital.
If your relative is unable to give permission, perhaps because they are very ill or elderly, you may be able to complain without having their signature. However, the NHS will need to confirm the patient’s lack of capacity before accepting the complaint. If they are unable to deal with the complaint then they must inform you of this in writing.
If you want to complain on behalf of a child, the healthcare provider will need to confirm that the child is too young to make the complaint by themselves.
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Who should I direct my complaint to?
If your relative is still staying in an NHS hospital you can contact the group that has been set up to deal with patient issues in the first instance. This may be called the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) and is a confidential service that aims to resolve problems on behalf of patients. If your relative is staying in a private hospital, a member of staff should be able to advise you on who you to address your complaint to.
If your relative is out of hospital or has been treated at a GP surgery, you should write your letter of complaint to the Head of the relevant NHS Trust or GP practice manager.
If you need support to make a complaint, you can speak to an independent advocacy service such as SEAP.
What if my relative has died?
If your relative has passed away then you will need to prove to the hospital that you are legally entitled to communicate with them about their treatment. The hospital or GP surgery will not release any records unless you are an executor of the estate. Without having access to your relative’s records you will probably be unable to resolve the issue.
You will need to provide the hospital or GP surgery with a Grant of Probate, Letters of Administration or a copy of the Will.
What should I include in my letter of complaint?
When you are writing a letter on behalf of your relative, you should start by being very clear on exactly what aspects of their care you want to complain about.
- Start with the most important points
- Ensure you include all important details, such as relevant dates and times
- Keep it factual and avoid aggressive language or threats
- Focus on the main problems
- Be clear and brief, aiming for no more than two pages – bullet points can help
- Include any questions that you would like to have answered
- Be constructive and see your complaint as an opportunity for improvements to be made
For more advice, read our information pack, Making an NHS complaint.
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What can I expect from the complaints process?
You should expect a timely reply to any letter of complaint. The letter should respond to the points you made in your complaint and you should be offered support to help you raise your concerns.
It is important to understand the limitations of the complaints process. It cannot provide:
- Help to claim financial compensation for clinical negligence
- Disciplinary action for an NHS employee
- Legal Advice
- Help with complaints about private medical treatment
- Medical advice
After you have made your complaint and received a response, you may want to take the matter further. Here at Coodes we are committed to fighting for and achieving justice for our clients who have themselves, or their loved ones, suffered clinical negligence. We are not only focused on achieving financial compensation for our clients to rebuild their lives, we also strive to identify system failures so lessons can be learned and improvements made for the future.