I understand that the NHS has a complaints procedure, I am considered that the complaints service will be bias for its own staff and medical practitioners?

The NHS complaints procedure Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS) is to investigate complaints made by patients. The PALS procedure is available in all NHS trusts. The procedure will consider the service the NHS trust provide ensure that poor treatment is identified and improved and that dissatisfied patients receive an assurance of this, an apology, or an explanation of what happened in their case.

The complaints procedure charter does not allow the medical practitioner to be disciplined or dismissed, however it may result in recommendations being made to the medical practitioner on how they can improve their skills, patient care etc.  PALS will consider the processes in place in providing care and treatment and if poor practice is identified (eg , lack of equipment, inadequate training, poor communication methods are responsible for the medical practitioner’s error PALS could intervene and suggest how the problems can be changed.

There have been instances of a PALS investigation discovering fundamental errors in NHS practice and procedure, which has led to a wider investigation. The investigation conducted has resulted in a medical practitioner being brought before his/her regulatory body such has the GMC for breach of conduct. General Medical Council (GMC) for Doctors,  for nurses and midwives, this will be the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The main aims of the PALS procedure is to:

  • Provide confidential advice and support to patients, families and their carers;
  • Information on the NHS and health related matters;
  • Confidential assistance in resolving problems and concerns quickly;
  • Information on and how to get more involved in their own healthcare;
  • A focal point for feedback from patients to inform service departments;
  • An early warning system for NHS trusts, Primary care trusts and patient and Public Involvement forums by monitoring trends and gaps in services and reporting these to the trust management for action;

The PALS complaints procedure does not award financial compensation for your injuries. You should be aware that if you decide to investigate a potential medical negligence claim you cannot request that PALS investigate a compliant.

From a practical point of view you may want to consider submitting a compliant to PALS before you decide to investigate a medical negligence claim. The outcome of the investigation may result in you finding out about what happened and whether anyone was probably at fault for causing your injuries. Once the investigation has been completed you can then instruct a solicitor to proceed with a medical negligence claim.

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Can I use PALS in all areas of medicine?

PALS applies to all NHS staff employed in all areas (GPs, hospital doctors, nursing staff or ambulance staff).  PALS cannot investigate private medical hospitals.  If your complaint is about care in a private hospital, they will have their own complaints procedure.
Private treatment is regulated by the Care Standards Act 200 which requires there to be a complaints procedure following the same pattern as the NHS procedure.

Initial PALS response?
The hospital Complaints Manager and admin officer will contact you and they will then investigate your complaint. They are obliged to respond within a certain time limits.  The regulations say that the response must be sent to the Complainant within 20 working days or, if this is not possible, as soon as is reasonably practical.

Tell me more about the NHS complaints system
The current system is governed by the NHS (Complaints) Regulations 2004 and amended in 2006.

A complaint will normally need to be made within 6 months of the date of the relevant treatment or within 6 months of the patient discovering the problem resulting from the treatment to which the complaint relates.

In cases where treatment has been provided in a NHS hospital, it is often advisable to pursue a complaint through the NHS Complaints Procedure.  You have a right to complain if you are dissatisfied with the service or treatment you have received.  You need to ask your Trust for a copy of its complaints procedure.

Solicitors will not get paid for representing clients in submitting complaints to PALS so it may be best to consult a Solicitor after PALS have investigated your compliant.
The onus and principle behind the PALS procedure is to settle complaints quickly, however, cases where the facts or issues are complicated will probably take a while to resolve.
If you are not content with the Trust’s reply then you have the right to ask that the Healthcare Commission to review the complaint.  You must do this within six months of the end of the hospital complaint.

Are there any other options available?

You can request that the Health Service Commissioner (the Ombudsman) to become involved, if you are not satisfied with the PALS investigation.

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