Feedback, complaints and your rights

The Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities summarises what you are entitled to and what is expected of you when you use NHS services and receive NHS care in Scotland. It also explains what you can do if you feel that your rights have not been respected.

The 'Feedback, complaints and my rights' section of the Charter summarises your rights when giving feedback or making a complaint to the NHS. Some of those rights are outlined below.

Feedback

When receiving NHS care, you or any of your relatives have the right to give feedback, make comments, raise concerns, make a complaint.

NHS welcomes all forms of feedback and uses it to improve services:

  • positive feedback helps to identify areas of best practice
  • negative comments help to identify areas of concern and to make sure action is taken to ensure the same problems do not happen again.

You have the right to be given information about how to give feedback, make comments, raise concerns, or make a complaint about the care you have received and the services you have used. You also have the right to be informed about how any feedback, comments, concerns and complaints you make will be handled.

To give feedback or make a complaint you can:

  • speak to a member of staff - this can be the best way to give feedback and resolve issues quickly
  • contact your NHS Board by phone, email or online.

You can also give your feedback by sharing your experience on the Care Opinion website.  It is an independent, non-profit organisation that enables people to post public, but anonymous, stories about the health and care services that they, or someone they know, have received.

Advice and support

You have the right to independent advice and support when providing feedback or making a complaint.

You may ask (and if you have a mental health disorder you have a right) to have an independent advocate to help you give your views.

You can contact the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) for independent advice and support when making a complaint.

PASS offers free and confidential information, advice and support to anyone who uses the NHS in Scotland.

PASS is a service offered by Citizens Advice Scotland. They can provide information, advice and support to:

  • help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a patient
  • Help you access the treatment care and support you need
  • provide feedback, comments, concerns or complaints about the NHS

PASS can be accessed at any Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland.

Find out where to access the PASS across Scotland

Mediation

Mediation is a service where independent mediators help the relevant parties to reach an agreement.

You can request, or Health Boards may offer, to provide this service. Both parties must agree to take part before this can go ahead.

You can get help finding mediation services in your area by asking the Feedback and Complaints Officer at your local health board.

NHS complaints procedure

If you can, first talk to a member of staff involved in your care. If you do this, they can try to sort out your complaint on the spot.

If you can't or you do not wish to do this, you can ask to speak to a senior member of staff or the Feedback and Complaints Officer for the NHS organisation involved.

If you prefer to complain in writing rather than in person or over the phone, you can send a letter or an email to the relevant NHS organisation.

If your complaint is about a GP, pharmacy, dentist or hospital, you can find the relevant contact information, here.

When complaining, you should give:

  • your full name and address (and the patient’s full name and address if you are complaining for them)
  • as much helpful information as possible about what happened, where it happened and when
  • information about how you want the matter to be resolved
  • your phone number, if you are happy to provide it, so that you can be contacted to discuss your complaint

Giving this information will help clearly identify the problem and what needs to do to resolve things.

How long have I got to make a complaint?

The NHS has a time limit for accepting complaints.

Normally, you must make your complaint within six months of the event you want to complain about, or within six months of finding out that you have a reason to complain, but no longer than 12 months after the event itself.

However, if you feel the time limit should not apply to your complaint, please speak to the person dealing with it. A complaint can sometimes be accepted after the time limit.

You can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman about an NHS decision not to accept your complaint.

What if I change my mind after I’ve complained?

You can change your mind about making a complaint at any time. Please let the person handling your complaint know as soon as possible.

When will I get a full response?

You have the right to be told the outcome of any investigation into your concerns or complaints. Staff will write to you with a full response within 20 working days of receiving your complaint at the investigation stage. This response should:

  • show that staff have looked into your complaint
  • reply to all the points you made
  • offer you an apology if things have gone wrong
  • explain what action has been taken or will be taken to stop what you complained about happening again
  • if necessary, explain why the NHS cannot do anything more about some parts of your complaint
  • offer you the chance to talk to a member of staff if there is anything in the letter you don’t understand

In some cases, the NHS may need more time to give you a full response and may not be able to keep to these times. If this happens, staff will let you know and tell you why.

What if I’m not happy about the way the NHS has handled my complaint?

If the NHS has fully investigated your complaint and you’re still not happy, you can ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to look at it.

The Ombudsman can't normally look at:

  • a complaint that has not completed the complaints procedure
  • events that happened, or that you became aware of, more than 12 months ago
  • a matter that has been or is being considered in court

For more information about who can make a complaint, what happens with your complaint and who can help you, read our Feedback and Complaints Factsheet.

Feedback and Complaints (Factsheet)

This information is also available as a factsheet, which has been translated into different languages and formats - including audio, BSL, large print and easy-to-read.

Print-ready versions for professionals are also available.

Download a factsheet

Investigations

When making a complaint or raising a concern you can expect:

  • it to be dealt with efficiently and be properly investigated
  • a full explanation into how it has been investigated
  • to be told what action has been or will be taken as a result
  • an apology if a mistake has occurred.
  • the NHS to use your feedback to improve services

Patient Experience Programme

The Patient Experience Programme supports NHS Scotland in developing ways to use patients’ experiences to inform service design and planning across the health service and drive improvement.

As part of this, NHS Boards involve patients in providing feedback on their experiences of care through a range of ways including:

  • local surveys
  • interviews
  • group discussions

In addition, there are 4 national experience surveys that provide information on the quality of health and care services from the perspective of those using them. These national surveys allow NHS Boards to compare with other areas of Scotland and to track their progress in improving the experience of patients.

The 4 national surveys are:

Duty of candour

If something goes wrong with your treatment or care, health and social care organisations have a duty to you or the person acting on your behalf to:

  • apologise
  • be open and honest
  • involve you in a review of what happened
  • let you know how they will learn from what has happened

Read more about duty of candour

Clinical negligence

You have the right to take legal action and make a claim for compensation if you have been harmed by negligent treatment.

Negligent treatment is when care provided falls below the reasonable standard and this causes physical or mental injury or death.

You may be entitled to compensation if you can prove you have been harmed by a negligent act. If you think you may be entitled to compensation, you should seek legal advice.

The Law Society of Scotland has details of solicitors who specialise in handling negligence claims.

Concerns about your data

If your complaint is related to concerns about your health records, you have the right to take your complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office.

Judicial review

A judicial review is a court process that allows you to challenge a decision made by an NHS body because you think it is unlawful. It looks primarily at how a decision was made rather than what was decided.

You have the right to seek judicial review if your personal interests are affected by the decision or action of the board.

If you want a decision to be judicially reviewed, you should seek independent legal advice.