If you are considering pursuing a claim against the NHS, then you’ll have probably already followed the NHS complaints procedure. For many people, pursuing a claim is not only about being compensated but also making the NHS aware of problems, possibly changing procedure or getting an apology. However, you must be aware that when you pursue an NHS claim or make a complaint, an apology or change in procedure is not something that can be guaranteed. It is possible your actions will help towards improvements but you must be prepared for nothing to come of it. For those who don’t wish to make a complaint or a claim to try and encourage change, NHS PALS would be the best point of contact for you; they will give you advice, listen to concerns and try to improve your relationship with your medical team.
When you make a complaint, file a claim, or report malpractice, you bring it to the authority ultimately responsible for overseeing your care or treatment. This could be a GP practice, a dental practice, an NHS trust or the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that looks after a number of trusts. Because of the size of the NHS and its structure, until you begin the complaints or claims process, you may not know who you will be dealing with. This can be intimidating, especially if you find yourself pursuing CCG or NHS trust complaints, but we will keep you informed as we move through the process.
As with claims, complaints have a time limit set on them and the NHS recommends filing any complaints within 12 months of the incident, and you will have it acknowledged within 3 working days. This does not mean you will have a response to your complaint quickly, as the NHS complaints procedure can be very long, but they aim to respond within 6 months. It is worth noting that NHS Wales and NHS Scotland complaints will be handled in the same way as NHS England complaints.
Making a complaint can also help with your claim against the NHS for negligence, as this often means the NHSLA or NHS Resolution will have a record of it and are aware of your case, potentially moving you through the process of claiming a little quicker. The 12 month time limit for complaints does not apply to making an NHS compensation claim, the limit on this is 3 years, so do not be put off seeking help if you’ve faced medical negligence of any sort within the NHS.
How to complain about the NHS
Complaining about the NHS is a common thing people want to do before even considering a negligence claim, and often the steps taken as a result of the complaint will be enough for many. The first place you will register your complaint against the NHS is with PALS, which is the Patient Advice and Liaison Service. They handle NHS complaints and any other issues you may have with staff or your treatment, but they don’t deal with GP complaints or dental complaints as NHS PALS only operates within hospitals. They are generally considered your first port-of-call when you first think you have issues with your treatment, however, it is not a mandatory part of the claims or complaints process. PALS is a very different part of the NHS to NHS Resolution, although they could refer you to them, so you should never deal with any NHS lawyers in your interactions with them.
NHS PALS will attempt to rectify any problems you have by discussing your treatment or advising you on it, but they can also provide information on the NHS complaints policy and how to get help doing so, if needed. It is worth remembering that contacting PALS or making a complaint are not the same as making a claim, and any action taken by, or with, them does not mean that you will be unable to make a claim for NHS compensation.