- How do I write a response to a complaint from a patient?
Writing a good response is a crucial part of successfully resolving a complaint. It’s important to know how to set out your response and what to include. We cover the main principles in our article, How to respond to a complaint, and in our video.
- Is there a time limit on making a complaint?
In England and Wales, complaints should be made within 12 months of the date on which the matter occurred, or from when the complainant first knew about the matter. However, it's still advisable to consider complaints made outside the time limit if it is possible to investigate them fairly and effectively.
Explain to the complainant if relevant information is no longer available and consider what steps, if any, can reasonably be taken to investigate their complaint.
In Scotland, the complainant has six months from when they become aware of the subject matter of the complaint, provided that is no more than 12 months after the date of the incident in question.
In Northern Ireland, complainants generally have six months to make a complaint, from the date of the incident in question.
If the complainant didn't know there was cause for complaint, they have six months from when they became aware of it, or 12 months from when the incident happened - whichever is sooner.
- Do I have to acknowledge a complaint in writing?
All formal complaints, whether made orally or in writing, should be acknowledged. This needs to be done within three working days in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and within two working days in Wales.
If the complaint was made orally (either in person or over the phone), your written acknowledgement should include an explanation of what you'll be investigating to make sure both you and the complainant have the same understanding of what the complaint is about.
Include an opportunity to discuss how the complaint will be investigated and explain when they can expect a response.
- How do I get involved if the response is written by someone else?
For NHS complaints, the response comes from the organisation (GP practice or NHS Trust) and will be signed off by the responsible person.
If you're the person who's been complained about, you'll be asked to write a letter or a statement to include with the response. Keep in mind that it may be embedded with the response in its entirety - so make sure it's written in a way that can be understood by the complainant.
Ask to see a draft of the final response letter, to check how your wording reads in context.
- If I call the medico-legal advice line about a complaint, will it affect my subscription?
One of our core services is to provide expert medico-legal advice, and members should call us at any time if they need pre-emptive advice on how to manage or avoid a problem, or guidance on what to do if something has gone wrong.
We answer almost 30,000 calls from members to our advice line every year, helping them avoid potential problems and mitigate problems if they arise. There's no penalty or disincentive to contacting us in this way, and we very much encourage members to get in touch whenever they need our input or support.
- I’ve heard that the MDU provides a new peer support network. Can you tell me more?
The Peer Support Network is available to members who are going through a complaint or an investigation.
We can offer confidential support and reassurance from a fellow medical professional who has had first-hand experience of the process themselves. To access the network, please speak to the medico-legal adviser dealing with your case.
Find out more in this MDU journal article.
- Do all complaints have to be recorded?
In England and Wales, all complaints - whether they are made orally, in writing or by email - are regarded as formal complaints under the NHS Complaints Regulations, and should be recorded in your annual complaints report.
The only exception is oral complaints resolved within 24 hours to the complainant's satisfaction, although it is considered good practice to keep a record of issues like this.
In Scotland, things are slightly different depending on whether the complaint can be resolved without an investigation.
A complaint that can be resolved without investigation must be recorded by the relevant responsible body, who must try to resolve it to the satisfaction of the complainant within five days. This can be extended to 10 days if the complaints officer thinks it can be resolved in that time scale.
If the complainant is not satisfied at this stage, the complaint needs to be investigated. Complaints needing investigation must be recorded in writing and investigated by the responsible body. The complainant must also receive a written acknowledgement of the complaint within three working days of receipt, and a written report within 20 working days.
In Northern Ireland, although the regulations require that all complaints, including those made orally, should be investigated and responded to in writing, HSC guidance does suggest that some oral complaints made to front line staff might be resolved 'on the spot', without any further acting being necessary.
- Can I stop treating a patient who complains?
A complaint alone is not regarded as reasonable grounds for removing a patient, in the eyes of the GMC and the ombudsman. What's more, your actions could escalate the situation and prompt a further complaint.
- Does complaint information form part of a patient's medical records?
Information relating to complaints should be stored separately from the medical record, as including it in the regular notes could prejudice the patient's relationship with the current or a future healthcare team.
Storing information separately does not stop it being disclosable if you receive a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 2018.
We advise writing draft responses without using patient identifiers. You should delete any draft responses and store only the final version of the complaint response, to make sure you are only keeping relevant information.