NHS Complaints Advocacy – resolving concerns about medical treatment

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Our National Health Service is still rated best in the developed world for safety, affordability and efficiency, according to the US-based Commonwealth Fund. Even in less crisis-driven times the NHS deals with around 1 million patients every 36 hours, and we are all very much aware of the extra pressures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Very occasionally however – and it’s around one-tenth of one per-cent of all patient cases - something goes wrong and needs resolving. And it’s dealing with those rare instances that helps maintain the high standards of service within the NHS. 

Most of us don’t like complaining, however. We find it difficult, perhaps even embarrassing, and are not always sure who we should take our concerns to. Sometimes it just comes down to providing feedback so that services can be improved upon.  But if a complaint is justified there are established procedures available to try to put things right. The NHS endorses and supports this – you can read more here

How to make a complaint 

The right way to take forward a complaint or concern about treatment received from the NHS, whether that’s from a 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.   

NHS Complaints Advocacy in Norfolk 

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

Our advocates can help you to 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 letter of complaint, 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 gaining financial compensation. It is 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 a change of approach or additional professional training.  

Edwin’s story 

Edwin, a patient at a mental health hospital, had raised concerns with staff because he was confused about the type of section he was on and he also had concerns around the arrangements for his upcoming discharge. Edwin informed hospital staff that he wanted to make a complaint and the hospital made a referral on his behalf to POhWER. 

Our advocate phoned Edwin to discuss what kind of support he wanted, and it became clear that he was concerned about a lack of information provided to him in relation to his discharge plan. Edwin explained that he often struggles to put his thoughts and ideas into writing and agreed with our advocate they would work together on writing a draft complaint letter, and that the advocate would provide guidance on the right place and person to send it to.  

Edwin received a written response from the hospital complaints team and subsequently a personal visit from a staff member allocated to the investigation of his complaint. Our advocate then discussed with Edwin the written response and the outcome of his meeting with the complaint investigator. Edwin was satisfied with the written response and explained that he found the meeting with the complaint investigator to have been very productive; the investigator had taken on board his concerns and had already begun taking the necessary steps to put together a plan around his discharge. Edwin was pleased that his complaint had made a difference and he feels positive about the future.*  

Who to contact  

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

* Name changed for anonymity