NHS Complaints – Information for Providers

On 3 February 2021, NHS England and NHS Improvement acknowledged that NHS providers may take longer than usual to investigate and respond to complaints. This is to allow providers to concentrate on front-line duties and responsiveness to coronavirus (COVID-19) as well as support the roll out of the vaccination programme.

The questions and answers below provide further information.

While NHS providers should still respond to complaints as best as possible, there is recognition that it can take longer than usual to investigate and respond to complaints at the moment. However, the Local Authority Social Services and NHS Complaints Regulations 2009 have not been repealed or amended. For example, complaints must still be acknowledged within three working days.

Yes, any NHS organisation may take longer to investigate and respond to their complaints. This includes hospital trusts, clinical commissioning groups, primary care providers, and specialised services providers.

No. All providers can opt to operate as usual regarding the management of complaints if they are able to do so.

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 their complaint response being delayed. 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 this announcement, 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.

The delay is not intended to apply to PALS teams.

This arrangement is in place until 30 April 2021.

All providers should ensure that patients and the public are still able to raise concerns or make a complaint, but expectations should be managed if delays are likely.

No. They have reassured NHS organisations that they will take into consideration the impact of this pandemic on the decisions they make during this difficult time. For the latest news from the PHSO please check their website.

Yes. You should ensure that complainants know about the Ombudsman as the final stage in the complaints process.  However, it is important to note that the PHSO has also been affected by the pandemic, and is experiencing significant delays.  PHSO is therefore prioritising the most urgent and serious cases at this time, and is asking complainants not to refer any complaint to them about the following:

  • delays with complaint responses
  • matters which are likely to resolve themselves within the next few weeks/months
  • delays in service delivery which are non-critical and are the result of an organisation coping with COVID-19

A patient is entitled to complain about the decision to delay the complaints process, which should be responded to once you are able to operate as business as usual.

For the latest information about the KO41 data collection please refer to NHS Digital’s website.

Information regarding NHS complaints is available on the NHS England website.

Stakeholder organisations, including Healthwatch and complaints advocacy services, have also been informed.

Organisations who are delaying their complaints process should also communicate with the public via local channels, including contacting existing complainants to notify them of delays.

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 3 February 2021.