Information for Providers – Frequently Asked Questions

From Monday 31 March 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement is supporting all NHS providers to ‘pause’ new and ongoing complaints investigations, to allow providers to concentrate on front-line duties and responsiveness to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The questions and answers below provide further information for NHS England commissioned providers.

What does ‘pausing’ actually mean?

A ‘paused’ complaint will not be investigated or responded to during the pause period. Complaints will remain open until further notice, unless an informal resolution can be achieved, the complaint responded to with the information available at that point, or the complainant chooses to withdraw their complaint.

Providers should continue to acknowledge and log complaints and triage them if they relate to issues regarding patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding, and take immediate action where necessary.

Does the ‘pause’ apply to all NHS organisations?

Yes, any NHS organisation can pause complaints. This includes hospital trusts, clinical commissioning groups, primary care providers, and specialised services providers.

Do we have to ‘pause’ our complaints process?

No. All providers can opt to operate as usual regarding the management of complaints if they wish to do so and this ‘pause’ is not being enforced.

If we do ‘pause’ our complaints process, should there be any exceptions?

Yes – you should continue to triage for issues of patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding, and take immediate action where necessary.

Providers should be mindful of their responsibility to support vulnerable people who may be distressed by work being paused on their complaint. In these cases, providers should continue to ensure appropriate action is taken where they can, as well as signposting to an organisation who may provide support.

Consideration should be given to complainants who, at the time of the ‘pause’, have waited an excessive amount of time for their response (specifically those who have waited six months or more). These should be reviewed to decide if and how these can be resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction.

Does the ‘pause’ apply to PALs teams?

The ‘pause’ is not intended to apply to PALs teams.

How long will the ‘pause’ period last?

The initial ‘pause’ period will be for three months from 31 March 2020.

What should I do if I am contacted by a complainant wishing to raise a new complaint?

All providers should ensure that patients and the public are still able to raise concerns or make a complaint, but that the expectation of an investigation and response in the near future is managed.

Will the Ombudsman penalise us for delays caused by the pandemic?

No. The Ombudsman announced on 26 March 2020 they will not accept new health service complaints nor progress existing ones where this requires contact with the NHS. They have reassured NHS organisations they will take into consideration the impact of this pandemic on the decisions they made during this difficult time. More information is available online here: https://www.ombudsman.org.uk/organisations-we-investigate/coronavirus-information-complaint-handling-teams

What should we do if someone wishes to complain about our decision to pause the complaints process?

A patient is entitled to complain about the decision to pause the complaints process, which should be responded to once normal operation resumes.

We have completed the local complaints process and are issuing a final decision/response. Should I still refer the complainant to the PHSO?

No. Please use the following paragraph:

If you’re not happy with how we’ve dealt with your complaint, you are entitled to raise your complaint with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. However, please note the Ombudsman is currently not accepting any new complaints about the NHS because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is to help ensure the NHS can focus its resources on providing urgent healthcare. You can find out more information on the Ombudsman’s website.

What about the K041 data collection?

NHS Digital has confirmed that in terms of the KO41a secondary care collection, the 2019-20 Q4 (Jan-Mar) data collection during April will be suspended as will the 2020-21 Q1 (April-June) data collection during July. The corresponding publications will likewise be suspended. NHS Digital will contact trusts to inform them of this decision and encourage them to continue to follow local processes where possible. NHS Digital will also be updating the relevant pages on our website to reflect this position.

NHS Digital has confirmed that for the K041b primary care collection, the collection of data in May/June for the 2019-20 year will also be suspended. The corresponding publications will likewise be suspended.

How is the pause being communicated to the public?

Information regarding the pause is available on the NHS England website. Stakeholder organisations, including Healthwatch and complaints advocacy services, have also been informed of the pause.

Organisations which are pausing their complaints process should also communicate with the public via local channels, including contact existing complainants to notify them of the pause.

Will NHS England communicate the ‘pause’ to Trust board members in writing?

Communication was sent in writing by Amanda Pritchard, NHS England and NHS Improvement’s Chief Operating Officer and NHS Improvement’s Chief Executive, in her COVID-19 NHS Leaders Update email on 27 March 2020

Have you consulted patients and the public?

These are exceptional times and the normal consultation and engagement opportunities have been severely limited. This is an operational decision to permit a pause and not a decision to stop handling cases. Cases may still be dealt with as appropriate – issues relating to patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding will result in immediate action being taken where necessary.