NHS organisations in England were able to pause the complaints procedure from 26 March until 1 July 2020. This had no effect on the legal requirement to investigate and respond to complaints, and it didn't mean that complaints stopped. Its main purpose was to manage expectations, by making it clear that NHS organisations were unlikely to be able to respond within the precise timescales set out in the regulations.
Many members received complaints during lockdown about issues relating to coronavirus or other matters. While their ability to investigate and respond was often affected by more pressing requirements created by the pandemic, they did their best in very challenging circumstances.
NHS England recognises that most organisations are continuing to adapt the way they provide services, and the nature and extent of the services they are providing, and that this will have an impact on an organisation's ability to investigate and respond to complaints. It is likely there will be no return to 'normal' ways of working for a considerable time.
Depending on how the pandemic progresses, it's also possible that the disruption it causes to the delivery of health services will again reach a threshold where there may need to be another pause for the complaints procedure, so that NHS organisations can concentrate on prioritising care of patients and front-line duties.
Recognising the additional uncertainty this creates, we want to remind members that we are here to support you. We will continue to assist with complaints responses, and we will also liaise with NHS England to ensure we give you up-to-date information about the impact any changes to the procedure will have on you and your practice.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales
There was no pause on local resolution of complaints in Scotland or Wales, though the effect of the pandemic on an NHS organisation's ability to respond to a complaint in a timely manner is recognised and must be taken into account.
During the initial phase of the pandemic, the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland asked service users for patience and understanding, recognising that the challenges of the pandemic were likely to make it difficult for providers of health services to meet the complaints procedures' timescales. This request for patience and understanding still applies as these unprecedented times continue.
The Health and Social Care Board has also made it clear that, while the pandemic continues, complaints that relate solely to actions that have been taken as a consequence of the pandemic will not be investigated within the complaints procedure. These concerns will not be ignored as the Board has agreed with Health and Social Care trusts and family practices that complaints of this nature will be screened on receipt and the format of response agreed and explained, but outside the formal procedure.
See also our article on responding to ombudsman complaints during the pandemic.
This page was correct at publication on 17/09/2020. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.