Week in and week out at Cantillons we are contacted by distressed clients with a concern that either they or their loved ones have been mistreated in our Hospitals. In addition, the national media reports error after error. Public confidence in our health service is at an all-time low and morale with the staff is also low. Patients and their families report that the complaints process is slow and cumbersome. Of late, we at Cantillons are now receiving complaints from acutely distressed families about their loved ones whilst they are currently in-patients in Hospitals. This is an upward distressing trend. Families feel that their concerns about a loved one’s care requires immediate attention. Our advice in an acute situation is to utilise the complaints process. Below is an analysis of how to make a complaint in accordance with the HSE complaints procedure.
A patient or a family member can initiate the complaints procedure by making a verbal complaint to a member of staff. It is classified as being an informal complaint. The staff member must acknowledge the complaint immediately or within 24 hours. The staff member can try to resolve the complaint with the patient. If the complaint is resolved then the matter is deemed to be closed.
If the complaint cannot be resolved to the patient’s satisfaction, the complaint should be put in writing, by the patient or his/her family, to the Complaints Officer (each Hospital has a Complaints Officer). The HSE specify that the complaint must contain information about who was involved, what happened and when, what the patient is concerned about, if anything has been done to resolve the matter and what does the patient want to happen.
By putting the complaint in writing, it then becomes a formal complaint. The Complaints Officer must acknowledge the complaint within 5 working days from receipt of the complaint. The Complaints Officer must consider the nature of the complaint and if it can be resolved informally or whether it requires formal investigation. If the parties agree, then the complaint may still be resolved informally. However, if the complaint requires investigation, then the Complaints Officer has 30 working days (6 weeks) to carry out an investigation. If the investigation is not going to be concluded within that timeframe, the Complaints Officer must send a progress report to the patient within the 30 working days’ timeframe and send updates every 20 working days. At the conclusion of the investigation, a report will be issued. If the complaint is not resolved to the patient’s satisfaction, then the patient can ask for a HSE Internal Review or complain directly to the Ombudsman. However, the Ombudsman usually requires the patient to have exhausted the HSE Internal Review before they will review the complaint.
If the patient decides to ask for an Internal Review, this must be made within 30 working days (6 weeks) from the date of the report to the Head of Advocacy Services, HSE, Oak Road, Millennium Park, Naas, Co. Kildare. A Review Officer will be appointed who must, within 20 working days, have concluded the review or send a progress report and update every 20 working days thereafter. The Review Officer may uphold, vary or make a new finding. In addition, the Review Officer may recommend a local re-investigation or that the complaint requires re-investigation at either National or Area level. The patient will be informed of the Review Officer’s decision and, if not satisfied, may seek a review by the Ombudsman. However, again the Ombudsman usually requires the patient to have exhausted the HSE Internal Review before they will review the complaint.
In reality however, Hospital staff know when the provision of care has been deficient and they are obliged, in accordance with the Open Disclosure – National Guidelines issued by the HSE in November 2013, to notify patients when there has been an error, but unfortunately, in our experience this does not happen.
It will be apparent from the above that the complaints procedure is a slow process and clients report that the procedure appears to be designed to frustrate and exhaust families. The time limits set out above are rarely, if ever, adhered to. In addition, families feel that by making a complaint they may have put their loved one in more peril. Our experience is to the contrary. Those that complain do get greater attention than those who suffer neglect in silence. Thus, if you have a family member who is ill and you have a concern about their care, our advice would be to utilise the complaints procedure. We would advise that an appointment with the Consultant in charge of the patient’s care be requested and a verbal complaint should be made to that Consultant in an attempt to try to get the matter resolved expeditiously.
Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.
* In contentious business, a Solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or any award or settlement.