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'Making A Complaint To The Health Service Ombudsman'

The Health Service Ombudsman (also known as the Commissioner) has been given wide powers by Parliament to investigate complaints about services provided within the NHS. He or she is able to look into certain types of complaint about failures in service or maladministration, such as not following proper procedures, rules or agreed policies; staff attitudes; poor communications; and poor local handling of a complaint. You need to provide some evidence to show that something has gone wrong and that the failure or maladministration has caused you injustice or hardship.

Patients can complain to the Ombudsman if they are not satisfied with the Convenor's decision or if they are unhappy with a decision not to convene a Stage Two independent review panel.

The Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Bill extends the power of the Ombudsman to give jurisdiction over cases involving clinical judgement and those involving primary care services. This applies to England, Wales and Scotland, for whom the Ombudsman is the same person. The Northern Ireland Commissioner operates under separate legislation.

If you wish to complain to the Commissioner/ Ombudsman:

  • the complaint should first have been made to the NHS Health Authority (or Trust) under the two stage complaints procedure.

  • the complaint must be in writing and be supported by all background papers.

  • the complaint should be made within a year of the incident coming to notice (though the Commissioner may decide exceptionally to waive the time limit).

  • the complaint must be made by the person directly concerned or someone suitable to represent that individual.

The Health Service Commissioner can require a NHS Health authority or NHS Trust to produce records or documents, and their staff to give evidence, for the purpose of his investigation. The Commissioner also arranges for one of his officers to interview the person making the complaint and, if appropriate, other witnesses like relatives and friends. The service is free and legal representation is very rarely involved; the procedure is also independent of the NHS. At the end of his investigation the Commissioner will send you, and the NHS authority or trust concerned, a written report of his findings. If your complaint, or any part of it, is upheld the Commissioner will say whether the NHS authority or trust has agreed to remedy any injustice or hardship you have been caused, for example by offering an apology and agreeing to change policies or procedures. Very occasionally he may recommend reimbursement of a financial loss resulting directly from a failure he has identified.

The Commissioner's work is reviewed by a Select Committee of the House of Commons who can require a NHS authority or senior members of their staff to appear before them to discuss a particular case.

There is no appeal against the Ombudsman's decision.

The Community Health Council will be able to tell you more about the Health Service Commissioner, and may help you to write to him. A free leaflet entitled 'How the Health Service Ombudsman can help you' can be obtained from his office at 11th Floor, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4QP Tel: 0171 217 4051 (England). In Wales the Health Service Ombudsman can be contacted at 4th Floor, Pearl Assurance House, Greyfriars Road, Cardiff CF1 3AG Tel: 01222 394621; in Scotland at 28 Thistle Street, Edinburgh EH2 1EN Tel: 0131 225 7465; in Northern Ireland at Progressive House, 33 Wellington Place, Belfast BT1 6HN Tel: 01232 233821.

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