Members reporting hundreds of patient complaints during lockdown

We ask the public to consider additional pressures caused by complaints.

MDU members have notified around 500 complaints to us since the lockdown began on 23 March. Many have been notified by GPs and primary care staff and focus on issues such as the shielding advice given to patients and whether PPE should be worn or is adequate. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, as the MDU doesn't know about all of complaints received by doctors.

While complaints numbers are a little down on what we'd normally see, we had expected a bigger drop in cases given reports that many patients were not consulting GPs for routine matters during the lockdown and that hospital attendances were also significantly down.

We are advising members to continue to get expert support from us when handling such complaints. While the NHS complaints procedure was previously paused in England and Northern Ireland, it is due to restart in England from 1 July 2020.

We have also called on the public to consider the additional pressures that complaints about NHS Covid-19 care will put on NHS services.

Examples of complaints related to the pandemic, many of which involve GP practices, include:

  • aspects of the shielding process - patients felt they should be shielded but hadn't been placed in the group or there was a delay in doing so. In other cases, patients who had been shielded felt they shouldn't be
  • prescriptions for non-essential medication - patients wishing to have additional items prescribed 'just in case' where the doctor felt it wouldn't be safe or appropriate to do so
  • patients unhappy not to be able to see a doctor in person for a minor existing condition such as fungal toe infections, ear syringing
  • complaints about the doctor's manner during phone consultations such as not addressing the patient correctly, lack of clarity or not enough information provided
  • that PPE made communication difficult or that it was not worn or was inadequate.

Dealing with complaints

Remember, the MDU is here to help you to deal with any complaints you receive, so please contact us for expert advice. As well as this, our advice to doctors receiving a complaint includes the following points.

  • NHS complaints procedures were paused in England but are due to resume on 1 July 2020, including complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).
  • The NHS complaints procedure remains paused in Northern Ireland. At the time of publication, no announcements had been made in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales about when the PHSO complaints process will return to normal.
  • Complaints must still be acknowledged. Keep in mind that the NHS complaints regulations allow for a complaint to be acknowledged orally, but it is important to keep a record of that acknowledgement, including any information given to the complainant.
  • When responding to complaints, provide an explanation in plain language of what happened, why and how it can be remedied. Use a conciliatory tone with expressions of sympathy and empathy when appropriate.
  • Provide a factual account of the care relating to the complaint setting out a clear timeline of events. Respond to each of the concerns raised.
  • Include an apology when things have gone wrong. Remember, an apology is not an admission of liability, and can sometimes be all that is needed to satisfy a complainant.

This page was correct at publication on 19/06/2020. 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.