Changes to NHS complaints due to COVID-19

Latest advice on NHS complaints handling – England

On Monday 3rd February 2021 Amanda Pritchard, NHS England and NHS Improvement Chief Operating Officer and NHS Improvement Chief Executive, issued the following guidance on the NHS complaints procedures and Covid-19 in England.

Advice on the complaints process

We are aware that due to the ongoing pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some healthcare organisations are encountering significant pressure on staff time.

The Department of Health and Social Care has advised that the Local Authority Social Services and NHS Complaints Regulations 2009 have not been repealed or amended, and all healthcare organisations must continue to comply with them. However, they have agreed that in some settings it may take longer to respond to a complaint and consider it permissible up until 30 April for this to go beyond the usually required six months.

All healthcare organisations should opt to operate as usual regarding the management of complaints if they are able to do so. However, those organisations that need to process complaints more slowly must follow this guidance:

• Ensure that patients and the public are still able to raise concerns or make a complaint, but that the expectation of when an investigation and response are likely to be completed is managed in each case.

• Continue to acknowledge complaints (within three working days as per the regulations), 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. This triage should be overseen by an experienced and senior complaints handler. All complaints should then be investigated and responded to as soon as NHS organisations are able to do so, unless an informal resolution can 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.

• Be especially mindful of complainants who were impacted by the pause which took effect between 1 April and 30 June (their complaint may have been received prior to 1 April or during the pause) and ensure their complaints are prioritised and not further impacted wherever possible.

This will be effective from 1 February to 30 April. Every effort should be made to avoid developing backlogs of complaints where it is possible to investigate and respond to the issues raised.

What does this mean for you?

You can still make a complaint or raise your concerns to the NHS but do need to bear in mind that the process may take longer than usual due to the pressure on the NHS at this most challenging time. You should also note that there is presently not a great deal that can be done if a complaint has exceeded the six month period for a response. The Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)– which is the body which reviews standards of complaints handling – is advising at present:-

‘Please do not submit a complaint to us if it is about:
• delays with complaint responses
• matters which are likely to resolve themselves within the next few weeks/months’

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)

The current advice from the PHSO is:-

‘Our service remains open but given the unprecedented situation you may experience delays of several months when you bring a complaint to us. We are very sorry about the delay and will do our best to support you through these uncertain times. We will focus on helping the most vulnerable as a priority.

The pressures currently faced by the NHS may mean that it is not possible for us to progress some health complaints at this time. Your caseworker will keep you informed of any delays with your case’

What about if I want to claim compensation?

Please bear in mind the relevant time limits for claims – Legal Time Limits

If the delay in your complaint looks likely to put you near to the second anniversary of the event which you are complaining about and you have suffered an injury which you are looking to claim compensation for -you should seek legal advice.

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.