Help in constructively negotiating a complaint about an NHS service

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Our National Health Service is rated best in the developed world for safety, affordability and efficiency, according to the US-based Commonwealth Fund. The commitment, dedication and resilience of front-line staff throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is universally acknowledged and respected.  

It’s very rare that something goes wrong but, when it does, it needs resolving for the sakes of all involved – patients, families and professionals. The NHS deals with around 1 million patients every 36 hours, and complaints about treatment received equate to approximately one-tenth of 1 per-cent. That’s a little less than 1 in every 1,000. But every complaint requires acknowledgement and deserves investigation. 

Most people don’t like complaining of course. They find it difficult, perhaps even embarrassing, and are not always sure who we should take their concerns to. 

The Department of Health emphasises the importance of a more open NHS and that listening and acting on patient feedback is critical to improving care. And the NHS Constitution says you have the right to have your complaint dealt with efficiently and know the outcome. The right way, then, to take forward a complaint or concern about treatment received from the NHS, be that doctor, dentist, pharmacist, receptionist, ambulance service, optician, in hospital or at a health centre, is with the individual concerned or their manager. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, the NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) is the next step.  

If a patient still doesn’t feel their complaint hasn’t been resolved properly, they can turn to the NHS Complaints Advocacy Service. In Norfolk, that service is provided by a partnership of advocacy charity POhWER, Age UK Norfolk, Equal Lives, and CAN. The service is free, confidential, and completely independent of the NHS. 

Our advocates can help people take a complaint forward in the right way to the right people. This can include explaining your options and supporting you with things like writing a complaint letter, attending a complaint meeting or signposting to other organisations. You can also make an NHS complaint on someone else's behalf, with their permission. It is important to remember that the NHS Complaints Advocacy service is not intended to be punitive, nor is it about attempting financial compensation. It is primarily aimed at bringing about resolution between the patient and medical services. It’s a learning process. For the patient or their representative an apology or explanation might be appropriate, and for the medical personnel involved, lessons can be learned which may or may not entail some change of practice, additional professional training, or a new methodology or process. 

This is of course a difficult time for health and care services at national and local level. We understand that and want to offer reassurance that, if you have a complaint in process with us, you will not be ignored; it just may take a little longer to steer the process at this difficult time. 

To talk to one of the NHS Complaints Advocoacy team call 0300 456 2370 or click here for more information about NHS Complaints Advocacy in Norfolk.