As an adult living with a primary immunodeficiency, you’re no doubt in frequent contact with NHS hospitals and clinics, and the people who work in them. Hopefully the care you’re experiencing is good and you feel you’re getting access to everything you need.
But what if you feel that things aren’t going right and you need to let someone know about it?
Making a complaint
Since April 2009, the NHS has run a two-stage complaints procedure. These are the stages:
1. Local resolution
This stage involves trying to get the complaint sorted out locally. First, ask your GP surgery, hospital or trust for a copy of its complaints procedure. This document will explain how to proceed.
Generally, the next step is to raise the matter with the staff member concerned – for example, doctor, nurse, receptionist or therapist – or the complaints manager within their organisation. You can do this in writing or by speaking to them. Alternatively, you can raise the matter with your local primary care trust (PCT) which commissioned the service.
The NHS expects that any staff member you approach with a concern or complaint will do their best to help you.
Most complaints are resolved at this stage. However, what if you’re not satisfied with the response you receive and want to take it further?
2. Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
If you’re still unhappy, then your next step is to contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. On the Ombudsman’s website www.ombudsman.org.uk there is an online form and details about what they can and cannot help you with. You can also call their helpline, telephone 0345 015 4033. The website has downloadable leaflets, including Bringing a complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman.
People often find that this route can be rather slow, so it may be best to seek support for your complaint through the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) and the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS) – see below.
Hopefully your complaint will be sorted out in either of these two stages. If not, you may need to take it to a third stage: judicial review.
If you’re not satisfied with the way the NHS has dealt with your complaint and you think you’ve been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body (e.g. if a relative has been harmed and/or you’d like to apply for compensation) you can make a claim for judicial review.
For further information on judicial reviews, see the Public Law Project information leaflet A brief guide to judicial review procedure.
Help with making a complaint
Making a complaint can be daunting, but help is available from several organisations, including:
- Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
- Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS)
- Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)
- NHS Direct.
Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
PALS is an independent body which handles patient and family concerns, with direct access to the chief executive of the NHS trust concerned and the power to negotiate immediate solutions. In other words, PALS is better positioned to sort things where you may have failed. PALS staff are employed by the NHS. PALS is best for dealing with informal concerns, and there should be an office in every hospital.
PALS is there to:
- provide you with information about the NHS and to help you with any other health-related enquiry
- help resolve concerns or problems when you are using the NHS
- provide information about the NHS complaints procedure and explain how to get independent help
- improve the NHS by listening to your concerns, suggestions and experiences.
Your local PALS office can be found here.
Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS)
This is a national service that supports people who wish to make a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. ICAS staff are independent and not employed by the NHS. As well as helping with informal concerns, ICAS will also support you to deal with more formal complaints.
Visit the ICAS website to find contact details of your local ICAS office. You can also ask for these from your hospital manager or from PALS.
PALS and ICAS work closely together to try to resolve a complaint quickly and to the satisfaction of the patient. It is always your choice which service you prefer to use. Both PALS and ICAS will refer you on to each other if it is more appropriate that you use the other service and if the patient consents to this course of action.
There is no central directory of ICAS services so you may have to search on the web to locate your local office.
The difference between PALS and ICAS
- PALS staff are NHS employees.
- PALS are there, on the spot. You will find PALS staff in every hospital trust and primary care trust.
- PALS will help you to deal with an informal concern.
- ICAS is an independent organisation, therefore not answerable to the NHS.
- ICAS has offices nationwide, in easily accessible locations.
Citizens Advice Bureau
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can be a great source of advice and support if you want to complain about the NHS, social services or local authorities. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau on its website www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
NHS Direct can advise on NHS complaints. You can find details on its website www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk.