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'Changes To The NHS Complaints System'

As a result of criticism of the NHS Complaints Procedures, the Department of Health set up an independent Committee of Enquiry. In its report, 'Being Heard', (referred to as the Wilson Report) it recommended a number of major changes which attempted to simplify the system for patients, carers and health professional staff.

The Government published its response ('Acting on Complaints') in March 1995. This resulted in a new complaints procedure, introduced throughout the NHS from April 1996. The importance of resolving complaints quickly and locally is emphasised - recommending that you should complain directly whenever possible. The significant changes were:

  • that complaints about clinical and non clinical care could be investigated using the same procedure;
  • The Health Services Commissioner (or 'Ombudsman') was given authority to investigate clinical complaints and complaints about General Practice, Dentistry, Pharmacy (Chemists) and Optical Service and about the way complaints were handled;
  • NHS Trusts were required to publicise their complaints procedure and appoint a Complaints Manager accountable to the Chief Executive;
  • General Practitioners have to have a complaints procedure for their practice.

  • Common Procedures
    All complaints about NHS funded services now follow the same procedures.

    • Stage One:
      All care providers must have a system for investigating complaints within set time limits. An acknowledgement should be sent to a complainant within two working days. A response to the complaint should be sent within twenty days. When this is not possible the complainant should be informed.

    • Stage Two:
      If the complainant is not satisfied with the response, they can ask the Convenor, within twenty working days, to establish an Independent Review Panel (The Convenor is a non executive member of the Trust or Health Authority). The complainant is required to provide a written statement saying why they are not satisfied.

      The Convenor will review how the complaint was investigated, may seek advice or see the complainant. The Convenor can:-

      • have the complaint reinvestigated,
      • decide it was investigated probably (that is, take no further action)
      • establish an Independent Review Panel.

      The Convenor will inform the complainant within 20 working days what action will be taken and give reasons for the decision.

      The Independent Review Panel has a Chairman appointed by the NHS Executive Regional Office. The Chairman decides how to conduct the investigation. The panel is appointed within four weeks and aims to complete its work within twelve weeks. It may seek the advice of expert advisers.

    • Appeal Stage:
      Complainants may complain to the Office of the Health Service Commissioner (Ombudsman). They may do so if the Convenor refused to establish an Independent Review Panel or if they are not satisfied with the Independent Panel Investigation.

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