Who must have a complaints procedure?
By law, all organisations providing NHS and local authority social care must have a complaints procedure. Here are just some examples of organisations that must have a complaints procedure but remember that the list doesn’t cover every organisation you could complain about:
- Hospitals, including private hospitals that provide services funded by the NHS
- Out-of-hours GP services
- Dentists and opticians
- Community health services such as physiotherapists, speech therapists and wheelchair services
- Ambulance services
- Mental health services
- Local authorities
- Private companies providing adult social care, either on behalf of the local authority or not. These organisations must have a complaints procedure in order to meet the Care Quality Commission standards for registration. However, they aren’t covered by the official NHS and adult social care complaints procedure.
Standards for handling complaints
Each organisation can draw up its own complaints procedure but by law there are certain minimum requirements which must be met. They must all:
- Make information available to the public about how they deal with complaints and how you can get further information about these arrangements
- Deal with complaints efficiently
- Investigate complaints properly
- Treat you with respect and courtesy if you make a complaint
- Help you to understand the complaints procedure or give you advice about where you can get this help
- Give you an appropriate response to your complaint, within an appropriate time and tell you the outcome, even if they don’t uphold your complaint
- Tell you how to take your complaint further if you are still not happy.
- There must be someone named as responsible for making sure the complaints system works. This could be, for example, the chief executive of an NHS hospital or the practice manager in a GPs surgery. Also there must be a complaints manager who is responsible for managing the complaints procedure.
If you’re not happy about the way the complaint is investigated
If you’re unhappy about the way your complaint was handled, you can contact an Ombudsman. If the complaint is about the NHS, you can go to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman. If the complaint is about adult social care, you can go to the Local Government Ombudsman. If the complaint involves both NHS and adult social care, the Ombudsmen will work together on your complaint.
It can be difficult or distressing to make a complaint and this can be made even worse if your complaint isn’t handled properly. Get help if this happens, for example, from Healthwatch IOW.
Healthwatch IOW is the ‘consumer champion’ for adult care services. Healthwatch IOW will just be able to give general advice and support about complaints and will be able to act as an advocate when you have a formal complaint. They can provide information about what support they can give you and often ask for general feedback on the care services you have used. It can be helpful to send them your views, even if you have nothing to complain about and want to report good services.
Isle of Wight County Council
When things go wrong the Isle of Wight Council aim to put things right quickly, informally and without a fuss. However, a formal complaint procedure is available if we are unable to resolve an individual’s complaint on an informal basis.
Complaints about Health Services
- You can deal with it yourself immediately
- Try speaking to the member of staff involved or responsible for the service you are receiving, such as the doctor, the nurse or the receptionist. Many matters can be dealt with effectively and helpfully in this way.
- You can ask to see the person responsible for complaints
- Each GP, medical or dental practice has a Complaints Lead and each NHS Trust has a Complaints Department. They can tell you how to make a complaint, will look into it, and can explain how the complaints procedure is handled in their organisation.
- You can talk to PALS staff
If you are not able to deal with it at the time, or you don’t want to raise it with the person concerned, you can ask to talk to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) staff. PALS is confidential, independent of the NHS and can:
- advise and support patients, their families and carers
- provide information on NHS services
- listen to your concerns, suggestions or queries; and help sort out problems quickly on your behalf.Each NHS Trust has a PALS service operating within it.
The NHS Complaints Procedure:
- If you have used the informal approaches mentioned above and your complaint is still not resolved, you may want to start the formal NHS Complaints Procedure.
- This procedure covers all NHS services provided in hospitals, clinics, the community and the home, and by doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists. It also covers services paid for by the NHS in private hospitals, homes or other places, but does not cover private health care.
- Remember, the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS) are available to give you advice and assistance with this at any point. You can find out more information about ICAS further in this section.
You may find it useful to have an independent advocate to put your case, for example, if you have a severe learning disability or a mental health problem. Ask Healthwatch for contact details of local independent advocates.
Complaints advocacy services
Every area of England has an independent NHS complaints advocacy service funded by the local authority. They can help you make a complaint about the NHS and have replaced the ICAS service. In some areas, local Healthwatch carry out these advocacy services. In other areas, local authorities may group together to provide the service at a regional level.