HSC complaints in Northern Ireland
This information applies to Northern Ireland
You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of Health and Social Care (HSC) treatment using the complaints procedure. To use the procedure, you must usually be a patient or a former patient of the practitioner or institution concerned. However, it is possible to complain on behalf of someone else. If you want to complain on behalf of another person, the hospital or practice must agree that you are a suitable representative.
Time limits for making a complaint
You should make your complaint as soon as possible after the matter you are complaining about happened. The time limit for complaints is usually:
- six months from the date this occurred, or
- six months from the date that you first became aware of it.
They can extend the time limit where it would be unreasonable to expect you to have complained in time, for example, because of grief or trauma. It must, however, still be possible to investigate the complaint.
You can't get any financial compensation through the complaints procedure. If you want financial compensation, you will need to take separate legal action.
If you want to make a complaint about any aspect of HSC treatment you have received or been refused, go to the practice, hospital or trust concerned. Ask for a copy of the complaints procedure. This is the same for GPs, opticians, dentists, hospitals, and any other care given by HSC Trusts.
In all cases, the first stage of the procedure is to make a complaint to the practitioner concerned. You can speak to any member of staff who is involved in your treatment or care about your complaint. Alternatively, all health service organisations will have someone who is responsible for dealing with complaints and you can ask to speak to them.
If you've got a complaint against your GP, dentist, pharmacist or optometrist, you should first raise it with the practice manager. If you don't feel able to complain directly to the practice, you could instead raise your complaint with the HSC Trust's Complaints Manager. They will act as a go-between between you and the practice and may offer conciliation services where they are appropriate.
If you are not happy with the response to your complaint, you can contact the service again and they will try to address your concerns.
If you remain unhappy, you can refer your complaint to the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints (the Ombudsman). The Ombudsman will look at your complaint and decide whether he should investigate it.
For more information about using the Ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman in Northern Ireland.
It may be possible to challenge the final decision on your complaint by taking court action called judicial review. Judicial review is a procedure which allows a court of law to review decisions made by public bodies. You can find out more about judicial review on the Public Law Project's website at: www.publiclawproject.org.uk.
The Patient and Client Council is an independent organisation which can help you make a complaint about your HSC practitioner, as well as offer confidential advice and information. For more information, visit the PCC website at: www.patientclientcouncil.hscni.net.
You can also get help to make a complaint about your HSC practitioner from your local Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is a UK-wide regulator set up to protect the public. To do this, it keeps a register of health and care professionals who meet HCPC standards for their training, professional skills, behaviour and health.
If a health and care professional does not meet its standards, the HCPC can take action against them, which might include stopping them from practising. This means that if you are unhappy with treatment you are given, or worried about the behaviour or health of a registrant, you can always raise your concerns with the HCPC
It is a criminal offence for someone to claim that they are registered with us when they are not, or to use a protected title that they are not entitled to use. The HCPC can prosecute people who commit these crimes.
To check if your health and care professional is registered you can ask to see their registration card or certificate.
Health and Care Professionals Council
184 Kennington Park House
If you are considering taking legal action about your HSC complaint, you will need to consult a solicitor.
These actions are usually costly and complex. All family practitioners are insured and legal action will usually be defended by an insurance company. Where the legal action is about the actions of an HSC employee of a trust or Primary Care Trust, the HSC institution will be responsible for deciding whether to defend the action.
If you have been injured because of negligence by the HSC and you want to consider taking legal action, see Personal injuries.
If you think that a HSC practitioner has been guilty of professional misconduct, you may be able to write to their professional or regulatory body to make a complaint.
Examples of professional misconduct include when a practitioner:
- has a sexual relationship with a patient
- claims they are competent to practise and they are not
- claims they have the qualifications to practise and they don't
- visits a patient without their request to do so
- breaks a patient's confidentiality
- puts false information on a patient's medical records.
If the practitioner is found guilty of professional misconduct, they can be prevented from practising in the future.
You may make a complaint to a professional body even if you have also made a complaint under the HSC complaints procedure. However, if an investigation has already started under the complaints procedure, the professional body may decide to wait for the outcome of this before deciding what action it should take.
You can make a complaint about the professional misconduct of a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC). For more information, go to the GMC website at: www.gmc-uk.org/patientshelp.
To find out which professional body is responsible for regulating other HSC practitioners such as dentists, opticians and psychologists, see the GMC's website at www.gmc-uk.org.
The leaflet outlines which regulatory body is responsible for monitoring each profession and what regulation means. It also provides contact details for all of the organisations. The leaflet has been produced in 12 languages and a large print version of the English version is also available.
Organisations and people providing HSC treatment are not allowed to discriminate against you because of your race, sex, disability, religion or belief, or sexual orientation. Also, your local NHS Trust might have an equality policy which says it will not discriminate against you for other reasons, for example, if you have HIV or if you are a transsexual.
If you're disabled, a health service provider must make 'reasonable adjustments' to allow you to use their services. If they don't do this, they must be able to show that their failure to do so is justified, otherwise they will be discriminating against you. Examples of making reasonable adjustments include providing information on audiotape as well as in writing, or installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access.
I have hearing difficulties and it is embarrassing when I go to the dentist – I can never hear them when the receptionist calls out my name.
You could ask your dental surgery to keep a record of all their patients with hearing difficulties. Receptionists can then come over and let you know when the dentist is ready to see you, rather than calling out your name. The surgery should agree to this. If they don't agree and they don't have a very good reason, they are probably discriminating against you and you should make a complaint.
If you think that a doctor, dentist, nurse or other HSC health care professional is discriminating against you, you can complain about this. Ask to see a copy of the equality policy of the organisation they work for and point out where they are failing to keep to it.
If you have experienced discrimination you can get help from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
For more information about discrimination see: