By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
A SERVICE to help people dissatisfied about NHS treatment is now available at the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) offices in Lerwick.
The Independent Advice and Support Service (IASS) will tell people how to complain about services from local GPs, dentists and from doctors and nurses in hospitals, including services commissioned from other health boards such as NHS Grampian. Complaints can be made about staff or treatment.
The free service is being provided by dedicated health support worker Dorothy Jamieson, whose post is funded by the NHS but who is completely independent.
Ms Jamieson, who took up this new post in April, will also provide information on health-related topics such as welfare benefits and sources of support for individuals and families, and can run a benefit check to make sure people are receiving what they are entitled to. However her main work is to guide people through the NHS complaints procedure.
She said: “I am enjoying working closely with the public, the NHS and other organisations to develop this service.”
Making a medical complaint is often seen as a minefield with little chance of a successful outcome. People often do not know when or if to complain, and Ms Jamieson can advise on this and provide “literacy support” when it comes to writing formal letters.
She said: “Even if people give up [complaining] halfway at least they will have had someone to listen and spend time with them, whereas health care professionals are really pushed for time.”
The new service would give people the confidence to complain, Ms Jamieson said. “There is a fear associated with complaining, especially in a tight-knit community.” It would also benefit the NHS, she said, as “it gives health professionals a measure of what people expect”.
Complaints against the NHS, including NHS services at private hospitals and care homes run by the NHS, must be made within three years. They can be made by parents or carers on behalf of a third party such as a child or adult with mental health problems or incapacities.
The person complaining can expect to receive an explanation, an apology and to be assured that if the matter cannot be put right, at least lessons will be learned.
Making a complaint cannot achieve either financial compensation – this must be done through a legal process – or disciplinary action against members of staff, though this may be taken through the relevant professional body, such as the General Medical Council, as a result of the complaint.
The formal complaints procedure will normally be started within six months. The person lodging the complaint should apply to see their medical records – this must be done in writing and the new service can help draft a letter. Under the Data Protection Act patients have a right to see their records, and should ask if any part of them has not been made available. There will be a charge for supplying the records.
The next stage is to write a complaint letter to the chief executive of the health board. Again, IASS will advise on this by supplying a template for the complaint.
A reply can be expected within 20 working days, and sometimes a meeting will be suggested. This has often been found to be a successful way of resolving the grievance.
If the complainer is still not satisfied, they can resort to the Scottish Public Services ombudsman. This is a person independent of the NHS who reports directly to the Scottish government.
If the complainer takes legal action while making a complaint, the NHS will end the complaints procedure. But that does not stop anyone taking legal advice, or taking legal action when the NHS complaints procedure is at an end.
In her capacity as health support worker, Ms Jamieson can also advise people needing care about direct payment, in which clients arrange their own care. She described it as a “positive move” in which a care package can be tailored to suit the client’s needs. Training can be given to the carer, paid for by the social work fund and there is also a payroll service, costing less than £100 per year, which sorts out the carer’s tax and NI contributions and takes the onus of being an employer away from the client.
• Recent legislation means that somebody of the same address and the same family can now be a carer.