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Making a complaint about healthcare

Sometimes, our experiences when using healthcare are so bad that it makes sense to complain about them. This can help you get changes to your care, and to help you feel better about what happened.

Making a complaint might not just improve your own future experiences, but it can also let the NHS know about a pattern and that lots of people are having the same problem. This can make the chances that something will change much higher, and improve things for everyone.

We know it can feel nerve wracking to complain, so we’ve got some tips and info below.

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How do I make a complaint?

In order to make your complaint, there are some key things to know before you get started:

  1. You need to make your complaint as soon as possible. It has to be within 6 months of when the problem happened (or 6 months from when you became aware of it – but still within a year)
  2. You need to make your complaint to the right place.
    1. If it is about a GP, dentist, pharmacy or optician it should be to the GP Surgery, Dental Practice or shop manager in the first instance.
    2. If it is about a hospital or Gender Identity Clinic, it should be to the health board responsible. Find contact details at: https://www.mygov.scot/nhs-complaints/
  3. You can get support to complain about your healthcare. The Patient Advice and Support Service is an independent service that can help you with your complaint: https://www.cas.org.uk/pass
  4. You can complain on someone else’s behalf, or have someone make a complaint on your behalf. However they have to be considered a ‘suitable person’ to make the complaint
  5. If you aren’t happy with the outcome of your complaint, you can apply to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to have them review it: https://www.spso.org.uk/contact-us

What does a good complaint look like?

An effective complaint:

  • Is short
  • Clearly states what happened to trigger the complaint
  • Says how the problem impacted you
  • Asks for specific solutions in response to the problem

What can I expect from my healthcare?

To help you decide whether to make a complaint, it can be good to know what health care should be like.

All doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are expected to behave according to professional guidelines set out by their professional body. The General Medical Council has a leaflet called: What to expect from your doctor: a guide for patients – where you can find out what kind of care you should expect.

Particular relevant information is that doctors should:

  • treat patients as individuals and respect their dignity
  • not unfairly discriminate against patients or colleagues by allowing their personal views to affect their professional relationships or the treatment they provide or arrange
  • follow the law that affects their practice
  • provide patients with the information they want or need so they can make decisions about their health or healthcare
  • treat patients as individuals and respect their views about their health, and their privacy and dignity

If your experience doesn’t match up with this, then you might have a reason to complain.

What should transitioning on the NHS in Scotland be like?

You can find out by reading the NHS Scotland Gender Reassignment Protocol.

It outlines the treatment pathway that all agencies involved in your transition care (GP, Gender Identity Clinic, surgical teams etc.) need to adhere to and states what gender reassignment treatments are available on the NHS. It allows you flexibility (such as hormones without surgeries, surgeries without hormones) and is non-binary inclusive.

If your experience doesn’t match up with the protocol, you could complain.

What should I complain about?

Ultimately, this is up to you. A few examples of important situations where you could complain are:

  • If an NHS staff member discriminates against you because you are trans
  • If a NHS staff member deliberately misgenders you after you have told them your gender identity
  • If a NHS staff member reveals your trans history or previous name to other people without your consent
  • If you are unable to attend an appointment at a specialist centre because it is not accessible
  • If you have been waiting three months after you had an appointment at a Gender Identity Clinic and they have still not written a referral letter for hormones that was agreed

Making a complaint doesn’t have to be about criticising the staff at a service (although it may need to be sometimes). In the last two above examples, you could:

  • complain about the inaccessibility of a building whilst acknowledging that the nurses there tried to help you as much as possible – and ask that the health board make the physical adaptations needed to make the building accessible
  • complain that the Gender Identity Clinics are too badly funded to do administrative tasks in a timely manner, and that they need more administrators to keep up with the demand

It is understandable that you might be concerned about how a complaint could affect your relationship with the service provider. That is one reason that a complaint should never be abusive. It is also important to understand that if you never tell your healthcare professional that something is wrong, they will assume that all is well and continue to treat you and others in the same way. A strong complaint that clearly states what you want changed can be an important tool for positive change.

For more useful information about what you should expect from your healthcare, and how to make a complaint, check out some of these websites and resources:

NHS Inform: Feedback, Complaints and Your Rights

Have your say! Your right to be heard: a guide for young people

Patient rights and responsibilities charter: easy read version

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