How to make a complaint to your healthcare provider
If you are not happy with the care you or a loved one has received, you are entitled to raise concerns or make a complaint. There are a number of options in relation to how and where you send a complaint, and this article will provide some guidance and tips on how to get the most out of the process.
Who to complain to?
This will depend on the area of healthcare your complaint relates to, how you feel about making a complaint and what you wish to achieve from it.
Firstly, think about whether you would like to raise a complaint formally or informally in the first instance.
- An informal complaint (or desire to raise concerns) may be made in whichever way you are comfortable with, for example over the telephone. This approach may be dealt with quicker than raising a formal written complaint, and could still achieve what you are hoping for. A good example may be if your complaint concerns urgent ongoing care needs.
- On the other hand, a formal written complaint requires a written response, timescales for their response may apply and there may be less chance of your complaint or concerns being misunderstood or ‘lost in translation’ if it is passed on from one department to another.
If you have decided that you would like to make a written complaint, then you will need to look up where the complaint should be sent. There are a number of resources designed to help with this, including:
- The Patients Association’s “making a complaint” leaflet;
- Action Against Medical Accident’s self-help guides;
- Guidance issued by the NHS about making a complaint;
You will see that you have the opportunity to raise a complaint with:
- The healthcare provider directly i.e. by writing to the GP practice, the hospital / NHS Trust, dentist or private healthcare provider; or
- To the body regulating or overseeing the provider – for example, NHS England or the Care Quality Commission.
The latter may be helpful if you feel uncomfortable making the complaint directly or if you feel the relationship with the provider has broken down to the point that making a complaint isn’t worthwhile.
Things to think about before starting to write the complaint:
- Think carefully about the important questions that you or the family want answered. The complaints process is probably the best opportunity for you to get answers or an explanation, so take your time.
- If more than one person has an interest in the complaint (for example, the rest of the family), it might be a good idea to have a discussion and make sure everyone’s concerns are included.
- Be aware that if you are considering bringing a medical negligence claim too, it is unlikely that it will involve looking at issues with communication or staff behaviour and attitude – so best include these in the complaint.
- It is hard to do but try to take the emotion out of what you write. You may well be very entitled to be angry and upset about what has happened, but it is unlikely to help your cause to write in that way. Try to stick to the facts and ask the questions and raise the concerns you have. It will help to get empathy from whoever is reading it and directing anger at them (however justified it may be) is unlikely to achieve that.
- If you are considering bringing a clinical negligence claim, do not worry too much about ‘saying the wrong thing’ in a complaint letter or meeting. The two processes are entirely separate. It would be quite unusual for something said by a patient or family member to damage any later claim. If you are honest, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Tips on setting out the letter:
The aim of any piece of writing is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand. If you are trying to persuade someone of something, make it as easy as possible for the person to come around to your point of view.
Practical tips include:
- Clearly state the date that the incident(s) occurred and where / which departments they took place in.
- Make your best point(s) first and ask your most important question(s) first. Don’t leave it to the end when people are less engaged – it’s not dessert!
- Use headings to break up the detail.
- Use bullet points or numbers to separate your points (or questions).
- Try to keep only the most important bits in and ask the most important questions. Of course, include all important details, but perhaps think to yourself ‘does the reader need to know this in order to understand my complaint or answer my concerns’?
- Be clear about the outcome(s) that you want. This could be an explanation of why something did or didn’t happen, an apology or proposals to ensure the same issue doesn’t happen again.
- Leave the letter to go cold for a few days and then come back to it. It is amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see: things you have forgotten or parts you realise you don’t need or should reword.