According to a recent report by the Parliamentary and health Service Ombudsman, vulnerable patients are being sent home alone, afraid and unable to cope and in some cases without their relatives or carers being told.
The report highlights cases investigated by the ombudsman service where people have been discharged from the hospital before they are fit to leave or without making sure they can cope on their return home.
One woman in her 80s was discharged from hospital to an empty house, in a confused state with a catheter still in place.
Another hospital sent an 85-year-old woman with dementia home alone at 11pm, without informing her family, despite the fact she was unable to look after herself. Her daughter visited her the next morning to find that her mother had been left with no food, drink and bedding, unable to care for herself or get to the toilet.
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said: “Poor planning, coordination and communication between hospital staff and between health and social care services are failing patients, compromising their safety and dignity.
“Health and social care leaders must work harder to uncover why ten years of guidance to prevent unsafe discharge is not being followed, causing misery and distress for patients, families and carers.”
So what can you do if you need to complain?
The NHS has a constitution that sets out your rights as a patient.
There are time limits within which to make a complaint. The time limit for using the official complaints procedure is 12 months.
The time limits for legal action depend on the sort of legal action you are taking. Check what are the time limits are for each course of action that you’re thinking about.
It doesn’t cost you anything to complain using the NHS complaints procedure. If you want to take legal action, you will need the advice of a specialist solicitor, and legal aid isn’t available for most cases of clinical negligence or personal injury.
What to do first
Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure. If you want to complain about an NHS service – such as a hospital, GP or dentist – ask the service for a copy of their complaints procedure, which will explain what you need to do.
You may choose to make a complaint in writing, by email (or through Resolver) or by speaking to them.
If you speak to them, they may be able to resolve your concerns without you having to go through the formal complaints process.
This is called a local resolution. It aims to resolve complaints quickly, and most cases are resolved at this stage. However, if you don’t feel comfortable raising your concerns directly (or your problem wasn’t resolved) and you would still like to make a formal complaint, follow the NHS complaints process.
You may make a complaint to either the organisation that provided your healthcare or the organisation that commissioned that NHS service. The commissioning body will be either the local clinical commissioning group (CCG) for hospital care, or NHS England for GP, dental, pharmacy and optical services.
Time limit for NHS complaints
You should make your complaint as soon as possible. The time limit for a complaint is normally:
• 12 months from the date the event happened, or
• 12 months from the date you first became aware of it
Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS)
You can get help and advice from Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS), whose officers are available in most hospitals. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters to patients, their families and their carers.
NHS Complaints Independent Advocacy Service
Individual local authorities have a legal duty to organise independent advocacy services to provide support for people who are making, or thinking of making, a complaint about their NHS care or treatment.
Contact your local PALS, complaints manager or local authority for information about how this service is provided in your area.
Parliamentary & Health Ombudsman
If you are unhappy with the outcome of your complaint you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is independent of the NHS and government.