Attending hospital for treatment can be a daunting prospect for many. Patients should feel assured that the treatment they will receive on the NHS will be efficient and most of the time this is the case. There are occasions, however, when patients may feel that the treatment they have received was inadequate, or even negligent. Under these circumstances, the NHS Constitution states that a patient has the right to make a complaint. This should trigger a thorough investigation into what went wrong so that the patient feels confident that the same mistakes will not be repeated in future. Hospitals have a Duty of Candour, by law, which means that a patient is also entitled to an honest and open explanation into the outcome of a complaint investigation.

A recent review led by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, into the quality of NHS complaints investigations, has shown that ‘NHS trusts are not always identifying patient safety incidents and are sometimes failing to recognise serious incidents.’ This would suggest that hospitals are breaching their duty to conduct an efficient investigation, and to honour their duty of candour.

The report found that, ‘The process of investigating is not consistent, reliable or good enough.’ The ombudsman reviewed 28 cases which they had deemed to be ‘serious incidents.’ A serious incident would include and unexpected/avoidable death or an unexpected/avoidable injury causing serious harm. The NHS had concluded that only 8 out of the 28 cases were ‘serious incidents.’ Further to this, the NHS trusts did not find failings in 73% of the cases that the Ombudsman did. Clearly, therefore, there are fundamental flaws in the investigation of NHS complaints and there are concerns that this may lead to further harm to patients.

NHS staff did not feel that they had sufficient support in their investigatory role. There is little national guidance or training as to how a complaint should be investigated. It is essential that an efficient investigation is carried out into complaints so that the problem can be identified and rectified to avoid future incidents. If sufficient training is not provided, failings may be missed. The Ombudsman’s review has therefore called for reform of the current investigatory procedures.

Prescribing incorrect medicine causing injury, providing an incorrect diagnosis, ignoring symptoms causing the wrong diagnosis to be made, an unreasonable delay in treatment and incorrect treatment are all examples where you would be entitled to make a formal complaint to the NHS. Furthermore, if it can be found that the hospital breached its duty of care and that this caused personal injury, the patient may be entitled to compensation.

If you have made a complaint to the NHS in relation to your treatment and would like advice on making a claim for clinical negligence, please call 0845 287 0939, or alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.