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NHS hospital complaints

The care you receive in a NHS hospital is usually very good and most people don’t have any problems. But occasionally things can go wrong. This page tells you where to start when you want to sort out a problem with a NHS hospital.

Who does this information apply to?

This information applies to all patients in NHS hospitals. It also applies if you're being treated in a private hospital when the treatment is funded by the NHS, for example, under the Choose and Book Scheme. It doesn’t apply if you:

  • are a patient in a private hospital paying for your own treatment
  • are a private patient in an NHS hospital. However you could make a complaint about someone who is supporting your treatment if they are on an NHS contract
  • want to challenge your detention in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. There is a special appeal procedure for this. But you can still complain about hospital care and treatment even if you're a detained patient.

What you might want to complain about

Here are just some examples of things you may have concerns about. But remember you can complain about other things even if they are not on this list:

  • an incorrect diagnosis
  • incorrect treatment
  • important symptoms have been ignored
  • there’s been an unreasonable delay in diagnosis or treatment
  • a medical product has failed
  • lack of communication
  • failure to provide appropriate pain relief
  • failure to provide proper nutrition and hydration
  • clinical negligence resulting in personal injury
  • waiting a long time for treatment. For example, you shouldn’t normally have to wait longer than 18 weeks for consultant-led treatment from the date when your GP referred you. Patients with urgent conditions such as cancer should be able to see a specialist more quickly - you should be seen by a specialist within a maximum of two weeks from GP referral
  • your operation is cancelled. For example, if your operation is cancelled by the hospital at the last minute (on or after the day of admission, including the day of surgery) for non-medical reasons, the hospital should offer you another date within the next 28 days, or fund your treatment at a time and hospital of your choice
  • the standard of cleanliness in the hospital
  • the behaviour of NHS staff
  • the quality or appropriateness of treatment
  • consent issues. For example, if you weren't given information about the severe side effects of a certain medication, you wouldn't be able to make an informed choice about consenting to the treatment
  • how and when you were discharged from hospital. For example, you shouldn’t be discharged from hospital until you’ve had an assessment of your continuing healthcare needs and, where necessary, of your community care needs. If necessary, arrangements should be made to make sure you’ll receive any services you need when you’re discharged. You may complain if you feel that you're being discharged too early or if you’re awoken in the night to be discharged or if you think you should qualify for NHS continuing healthcare. Before you’re discharged, you have the right to ask for a review of the decision which has been made about whether you qualify for NHS continuing healthcare
  • discrimination, for example, you’re not given proper treatment because of your disability or age. This is against the law
  • hospital visits. For example, your child is in hospital and you feel that the visiting hours are too restricted
  • you’ve been placed in a mixed-sex ward without a good reason
  • you’re given medication that is unsuitable even though your family have explained why this medication shouldn’t be given to you
  • errors in medical records, or loss of medical records
  • delays in passing on information to other professionals
  • Do Not Resuscitate notices are placed in a patient’s records without their knowledge or consent and without discussing this with their family.

Who is responsible for hospital care?

It can be confusing to work out who is responsible for your care in a hospital and who you can raise your concerns with.

NHS hospital trusts

NHS hospital services are run and managed by NHS trusts, who are responsible for making sure that hospitals provide high-quality healthcare. The Chief Executive of the hospital has overall responsible for those services.

NHS care in private hospitals

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) buy or commission hospital services and this could include commissioning treatment in a private hospital. If there's a problem and you don't want to complain directly to the private hospital, you can contact the CCG to raise concerns and they have a duty to follow up your complaint.

Your GP

Apart from emergency care, hospital treatment is arranged through your GP and so if there are problems with your care at the hospital, you could also inform your GP.

This is particularly the case if your GP has referred you to a private hospital for NHS treatment and you have concerns there – go back to your GP if, for example, the hospital is asking you to pay towards the treatment or is suggesting you take further diagnostic tests that the GP hasn’t referred you for.

Clinical commissioning groups

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are responsible for buying or commissioning hospital care. You can make a complaint to them if:

  • you’re unhappy with the care you get in a NHS hospital or in a private hospital with a contract to provide NHS services, and
  • you don’t want to raise your concern directly with the hospital.

If you’re unhappy with the way that a CCG deals with your complaint, you can report them to NHS England.

Individual healthcare professionals

Your consultant has overall responsibility for your clinical care in the hospital. The NHS Choices website includes details of your consultant’s outcomes in certain medical areas - you might want to have a look at this before you make a complaint about a consultant.

Also each individual healthcare professional that looks after you must provide a good quality of care. This is a legal duty and it is also required by their regulatory body. This means you can take action against a healthcare professional if they don't provide this quality of care.

What are your options?

Depending on what happened and what you want to achieve, you may have different options to make a complaint:

  • use the NHS complaints procedure. This can also be used for concerns about treatment by a private hospital if the care is paid for by the NHS
  • take legal action, for example, for clinical negligence, discrimination or for breach of your human rights
  • report concerns to the regulatory body, the General Medical Council
  • report concerns to other bodies such as the Care Quality Commission, the CCG, your local Healthwatch, the press, or the NHS Choices website.

Medical records

If you’re thinking of making a complaint about the medical treatment which you did or didn’t receive, you may find it helpful to obtain a copy of your medical records first.

What should you do if a relative has died because of a medical accident

Usually the hospital will report unexpected deaths to the coroner. Coroners are responsible for investigating any death where someone hasn’t died from natural causes, though they don’t investigate stillbirths. However, sometimes the hospital doesn’t inform the coroner, for example, if a doctor feels that someone died of natural causes or that there was nothing unusual.

If you think that there was something unusual about the death and there should be an inquest, you should ask the hospital if they are referring it to the coroner. Or you could contact the coroner directly. You should tell the coroner about your concerns as soon as you can. The coroner will decide whether an inquest or a public hearing should be held.

If you’re in this situation, get advice from a specialist.

You can find out the contact details of the coroner by emailing: coroners@justice.gsi.gov.uk or phoning 020 3334 3555 (ask to speak to the Coroners, Burials, Cremation and Inquiries team).

Whistleblowing

You may be someone who works in an NHS hospital and is concerned about unsafe work practices or lack of care by other professionals. There are special procedures to follow to raise your concerns.

Get help

Depending on the circumstances, it can be difficult or distressing to make a complaint. It’s usually best to get help to do this. For example, you could contact your local Healthwatch.

Next steps

Other useful information

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