Improving the NHS – with Help from Healthwatch

It has been a long time since the wise men made their epic trip to deliver three simple gifts and it was a long time before that when Hippocrates, another wise man observed,
‘Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm’.
In July 1945 the founders of the National Health Service also had three simple gifts in mind when they determined the core principles of the NHS, namely that it should
·         meet the needs of everyone
·         be free at the point of delivery
·         be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
The simplicity of these statements contrasts dramatically with the enormous complexity of the circumstances which apply to health care provision in today’s NHS. It is perhaps disappointing that so much of what the media reports about the NHS is concerned with its failings, rather than the successes from which so many people benefit. Nevertheless checks and balances to ensure that Hippocrates’s concerns are taken into account are an essential part of the process.
So what is the procedure for complaining about the NHS of local authority social services? The first step is to obtain a copy of the complaints procedure which is available from any NHS service (for example, GPs, opticians, dentists, and hospitals) and local authority social services departments. Claims for financial compensation must be dealt with through legal proceedings and are outside the remit of complaints procedures

The time limit for complaints  is usually twelve months after

– the issue which are the subject of the complaint  took place or
– the date that the complainant first became aware of it.

The  limit can be extended in certain circumstances for example where the delay is due to grief or trauma. It must, however, still be possible to investigate the complaint..

In all cases, the first stage of the procedure is to make a complaint to the practitioner concerned. A social services department must have a complaints manager. Some of the larger health centres also have complaints manager. While this is less likely in a small GP or dental practice for example all NHS practices must nominate an individual who is responsible for dealing with complaints
A complaints manager can arrange for an independent conciliator or mediator to be brought in to help resolve the complaint.  In most cases complaints are resolved at this stage.  There is no right of appeal against the decision of the complaints manager,. However, the matter can be referred to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if the complaint is about the NHS, or the Local Government Ombudsman if the complaint is about social services.
HealthWatch Surrey could also help.  Part of the HealthWatch England network, it is an independent organisation which is intended to give the people of Surrey a voice to improve and shape health and social care services across the county. It can also give help and support with complaints. Providers of these services are obliged to respond to local HealthWatch within 20 days (30 days in more complex cases).

If your complaint is against an NHS hospital the Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS) at the hospital could also help with your complaint. Although they can’t take up formal complaints,PALS can give general advice on complaints procedures and may be able to sort out some less serious complaints by negotiation

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