Changes to NHS complaints due to COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NHS England and NHS Improvement have written to all NHS providers in England supporting a system-wide ‘pause’ of the NHS complaints process which would allow all healthcare providers in all sectors to concentrate their efforts on the front-line duties and responsiveness to COVID-19. This means:

  • 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.
  • All providers would continue to acknowledge complaints, log them on their respective systems, triage them for any immediate issues of patient safety, practitioner performance or safeguarding and take immediate action where necessary. All complaints would then remain open until further notice, unless an informal resolution could be achieved, or the complainant chooses to withdraw their complaint.
  • In secondary care where PALS offices still operate, they could still provide support by email and telephone and this should be encouraged for patients and the public to engage with the organisation.
  • CCGs should ensure that they continue to have open channels of communication with patients and the public.
  • Consideration should be given to complainants who, at the time of the ‘pause’, have already waited excessively long for their response (specifically those who have waited six months or more). These should be reviewed to ascertain if and how these can be resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction.

The initial ‘pause’ period is recommended to be for three months with immediate effect. All healthcare 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.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman suspends work on new complaints

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) writes:

“The coronavirus pandemic is putting unprecedented pressure on the National Health Service. This has meant many NHS organisations are struggling to answer complaints and many complaints staff have understandably been redeployed to help tackle the pandemic.

“After considering our position carefully, we have decided that we should not place additional burdens on the health service at this time. We will therefore pause our work involving health complaints with effect from today until further notice. This means that we will not accept new health complaints, nor progress existing ones where this requires contact with the health service or our clinical advisers. We will keep the situation under close review.

“We appreciate that this will have an impact on our complainants and stakeholders and will raise a number of questions about what happens in the interim. You can find more information about our decision on our website.

“Please note that our telephone lines will remain open to give advice to callers, although we will not be able to deal with new complaints.”

CQC suspends routine inspections

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) says on its website:

“We’ve suspended our routine inspections to reduce the pressure on health and social care services. We’ll still monitor them using data and information, and we will still visit if we think there’s a risk of harm or abuse.”

For more information visit the CQC website.

Please note you can still provide feedback to the CQC or raise concerns about registered services here.