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Complaints about Hospital Care

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If you or a loved one has received substandard care at hospital, you may be wondering how to prove this has been the case.

You can’t assume that a hospital will want to hear about your complaints and you may find that, initially at least and unless you persist, you are not taken seriously and get fobbed off. To make sure that a serious complaint of this kind gets an effective response, it is essential to make a record of all the events leading up to the problem, as well as a clear record of the problem itself and then continue to record the response to your complaint. Along with your account of events, gather and save any supporting evidence to prove your case.

Remember the Staffordshire hospital scandal in which many complaints were simply ignored and brushed off until finally an appalling amount of suffering and unnecessary death was exposed. Complaints can be embarrassing, costly and time consuming for hospitals and so sometimes you have to work hard to be heard and get a remedy.

Types of Hospital Care Complaints

  • Clinical negligence leading to personal injury;
  • The wrong diagnosis;
  • The wrong treatment;
  • Poor quality of treatment;
  • Symptoms ignored or not identified;
  • Unreasonable delay in diagnosis or treatment;
  • Lack of or poor communication;
  • Failure to provide proper food or liquids;
  • Late cancellation of an operation for non-medical reasons;
  • Poor cleanliness or hygiene in the hospital;
  • The behaviour of staff;
  • Consent issues, for example, not being given information about possible unexpected and unwanted consequences of an operation or of side effects to medication;
  • Discharge from hospital without an assessment of your continuing healthcare needs and, where necessary, of your community care needs;
  • Discharge from hospital without the arrangements that should have been made for you to receive services when discharged;
  • Unlawful discrimination, for example, you’re not given proper treatment because of your disability or age;
  • Unreasonably restricted hospital visit times and duration, especially in relation to a child;
  • Placed in a mixed-sex ward without a good reason;
  • Given unsuitable medication even though you or your relatives have explained why this medication shouldn’t be given to you;
  • Errors in or loss of medical records;
  • Delays in passing on information to other professionals
  • A Do Not Resuscitate notice being placed in your records without your knowledge or consent and without discussing this with you or your relatives.

Who do I complain to?

Complaining may not be enough

If you have suffered harm through clinical negligence or through a breach of your human rights, you can certainly complain but you need to also take legal action, which is a completely separate process, to get compensation. This means you need to get legal advice from a specialist solicitor about your chances of success and how to proceed. Don’t try to do this on your own as you could miss out on your entitlements. [ link to clinical negligence page ]

NHS hospital trusts

NHS trusts are responsible for making sure that their hospitals provide high-quality healthcare. Use the NHS complaints procedure in an NHS hospital or in a private hospital if the care is paid for by the NHS

Clinical Commissioning Groups

If you receive NHS care in a private hospital and don’t want to complain directly to that hospital, you can complain to the Clinical Commissioning Group (they are responsible for buying or commissioning hospital care) If you contact the Clinical Commissioning Group to raise concerns they have a duty to follow up your complaint.

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

Your General Practitioner

Unless you’re in hospital as an emergency, hospital treatment is arranged through your GP. If there are problems with your care at a hospital, you could also inform your GP, especially if your GP has referred you to a private hospital for NHS treatment and you have concerns. They need to be aware of a problem for future reference, which might help other patients, but they won’t investigate your complaint. It’s not their job.

Individual healthcare professionals

Every individual healthcare professional who looks after you, whether a nurse, a doctor, a technician, or some other therapist, has a personal responsibility to 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.

Your consultant has overall responsibility for your clinical care in the hospital. Report concerns about a doctor to their regulatory body, the General Medical Council.

Report concerns about other medical professionals to their regulatory body, for example the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

What else can I do?

You can also report concerns to other bodies such as the Care Quality Commission, which has responsibility for monitoring hospitals (although it is not set up to investigate complaints by patients, it needs to know if things are going wrong), your local Healthwatch, the press, or the NHS Choices website.

The Patients Association offers a great deal of support for people with complaints about hospital care. They have a great website with lots of information and guidance and a helpline. It’s well worth researching here.

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