Information for Public – Frequently Asked Questions

From Monday 31 March 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement will support 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 members of the public.

Why are you doing this?

This decision was taken mainly due to clinical staff, including GPs, needing to prioritise front line patient care.

We are sorry we have to temporarily pause the complaints process, but we will resume it as soon as possible.

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 can be responded to with information available at that time, or if the complainant chooses to withdraw their complaint.

Can I still raise a new complaint?

Yes, organisations should make sure patients and the public are still able to raise concerns or make a complaint. However, complainants should expect there to be a delay in investigating and responding to their complaint.

All providers should continue to acknowledge and log complaints, and process them  if they relate to patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding, and take immediate action where necessary.

Can I still contact PALs?

Yes, assuming the NHS organisation you are contacting has a PALs team.

Will all NHS organisations ‘pause’ their complaints process?

All NHS organisations have been given the option of pausing the complaints process – this includes NHS England, hospital trusts, GP and dental practices, pharmacists, and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). However, the ‘pause’ is not enforced, therefore some organisations may continue to deliver their complaints process in the usual way

Can you make an exception for my case?

We have asked providers to be mindful of their responsibility to support vulnerable people who may be distressed by work pausing 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 be able to provide support.

We have also asked providers to give consideration 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.

How long will the ‘pause’ period last?

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

Can I still take my complaint to the Ombudsman?

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 make sure the NHS can focus its resources on providing urgent healthcare. You can find out more information on the Ombudsman’s website

How is the pause being communicated to the public?

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

Organisations, which are pausing their complaints process, should also communicate with the public, such as contact existing complainants to notify them of the pause.

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 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.

I would like to make a complaint about the pause – how can I do this?

You are entitled to make a complaint about the decision to pause the complaints process. However, you should expect there to be a delay to any response until the ‘pause’ period has finished.