NHS Complaints – Information for the Public

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 for members of the public.

This decision was taken mainly due to clinical staff, including GPs, needing to prioritise front line patient care and support the vaccination programme.

We are sorry that the complaints process may now take longer than usual.

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. If they relate to patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding, immediate action should be taken where necessary.

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

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

We have asked providers to 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 be able to provide support.

We have also asked providers to give consideration 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.

These arrangements are in place until 30 April 2021.

Yes. However, it is important to note that 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

The PHSO is aware of the difficulties at present and is taking a flexible approach to timeframes imposed on healthcare providers. You can find out more information on the Ombudsman’s website.