How do I Complain About my Hospital Treatment?

5 Min Read

Image of a woman looking concernedIf you think you have suffered negligent medical treatment, making complaints against doctors can be daunting. Paul Sankey, a partner in our medical negligence team in Bristol, has some guidance on the process.

Paul says:

“If you are not happy about your hospital treatment you have a right to complain. Patient complaints in hospitals are important because it helps the hospital staff to know what is going wrong. You may want to speak first to your treating doctor, and an informal approach may be enough. If you need to make a formal complaint this guide will help you.”

Who Should I Complain to About Negligence?

Make your complaint to the complaints team at the hospital. Your hospital will have an NHS complaints procedure. You can ask for it at reception or look on its website.

When Should I Complain About the Hospital?

You should complain within 12 months of the incident. If you have good reason for taking longer, you may still be able to make your complaint. Sometimes hospitals will deal with late complaints even if you do not have a good reason for delay.

How Should I Complain?

You can send a letter or an email. You can also complain verbally (in person or by telephone). The hospital should then make a record of your complaints against your doctors and let you have a copy.
It is better if possible to make a written complaint. The Patient Advisory and Liaison Service (PALS) at the hospital may be able to help you. Try to be polite even if you feel upset.

Can I Complain on Behalf of Someone Else?

You can complain on behalf of someone else, but you will need their written agreement. Ask them to sign a form which says:

‘I [give their full name] of [give their full address] born on [give their date of birth] authorise [give your full name] to make a complaint on my behalf. I agree to you giving confidential information about my condition and treatment to [give your name].’

What Should I Say in My Complaint?

1. Say that you are making a formal complaint and ask for an investigation.
2. Tell the story of what has happened. Focus on what is most important to you. Try not to give so much detail that the important parts get lost.
3. Where you can, give dates.
4. Summarise the main things that concern you which you would like investigated. It is best to number the points to help the complaints team make sure each point is answered.
5. Ask for an investigation and a written response within a set period. 5 weeks isa reasonable period for a response.

What Response Can I Expect?

You should receive a letter to acknowledge your complaint. The hospital may suggest a different time-scale for its reply. There is no set timetable. Be reasonable in agreeing a time limit. You may then be invited to a meeting to discuss your complaint or you may be sent a detailed written reply.
If you are considering making a medical negligence claim, it is best to ask for a written reply. We can then look at it for you. If you prefer to go to a meeting, ask for minutes to be made and given to you. We can also examine these for you.

What If I Am Not Happy With The Response?

If the hospital does not deal with your complaint or you are not happy with the response, you can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales if you are welsh).

I Want to Make A Medical Negligence Claim. Should I Make a Complaint First?

If you are thinking of making a medical negligence claim, we suggest you telephone us before making a complaint. It may be helpful to complain, but it is best not to delay a claim. Investigating a claim takes time and it is better that we start sooner rather than later.

What is the Time Limit for Making a Claim?

If you need to issue court proceedings, a claim form must be issued within 3 years of the date of the incident you think was negligent. However, please bear in mind that investigating a claim takes time and there is a lot for us to do before we issue proceedings.

Sometimes the 3-year period runs from when you knew (or should have known) that you suffered harm from something you now say was negligent. The law here is complicated. If you think the time limit is more than 3 years from the date of the incident, please check with us urgently.

Will it Cost Me Anything to Ask You About a Claim?

No. Please get in touch with our medical negligence solicitors and we will be happy to talk to you about whether you have a claim. We would like to help you if we can, and we will not charge you just to speak to us.