Health and Social Care

This section explains what to do if you are unhappy with the care or treatment you receive from the health service in Northern Ireland.

Patient Client Council

The Patient and Client Council is a powerful, independent voice for people on health and social care.

The Patient and Client Council has four statutory main duties. They are to:

  • represent the interests of the public;
  • promote involvement of the public;
  • provide assistance to individuals making or intending to make a complaint relating to health and social care; and
  • promote the provision by Health and Social Care bodies of advice and information to the public about the design, commissioning and delivery of health and social care.

If you have a complaint about health and social services then you can ask the Patient and Client Council for help.

Making a complaint against the health service

If you are unhappy with the care or treatment you receive from the health service in Northern Ireland, you have the right to complain. Health services include hospitals, community services, nursing or residential homes, ambulance services, social services, family doctors and health service pharmacists, opticians and dentists. You can complain on someone else’s behalf, although you will generally need their consent.

How to complain

You can complain face to face, by telephone, by letter or by email. You should try to provide clear and concise details about:

  • Who or what you’re complaining about;
  • If something specific happened - where and when it took place;
  • What you would like to be done about your complaint; and
  • How best to contact you.

If you are unhappy, let someone know as soon as possible so that they can try to put things right straight away. Generally speaking, complaints should be made within six months and no longer than 12 months after the event.

Who to complain to

You can speak to a member of staff who is involved in your treatment or care. Alternatively, all health service organisations will have someone who is responsible for dealing with complaints and you can ask to speak to them.

If your complaint relates to services provided by a GP or a health service dentist, pharmacist or optician, you can also contact the Patient and Client Council (PCC).

What will happen next?

Your complaint will be acknowledged by the PCC within 2-3 working days of receipt. You should receive a full response within 10 days if your complaint was about a GP, dentist, pharmacist or optician. If your complaint was about a hospital or community service, you should receive a full response within 20 working days. Some complaints take longer to resolve than others. You should be told if this is the case and be given an explanation.

Help with making a complaint

Health service complaints managers can provide you with more information on how to make a complaint. Specialist advocacy services may also be available. Complaints managers or the Patient and Client Council can tell you about these.

What to do if you’re still not happy

If you are not happy with the response to your complaint, you can contact the service again and they will try to address your concerns. If this fails to resolve the issue, you can refer it to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will look at your complaint and decide whether he should investigate it.

Complaints about independent establishments

If the health service has placed you or a friend or relative in an independent establishment, such as a residential or nursing home and you have a complaint, you should raise it first with the care provider. If you are not happy with their response, you can ask the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) to review your complaint. RQIA are also responsible for children’s homes, independent hospitals, clinics and nursing agencies.

With the transfer of duties of the Mental Health Commission to RQIA under the Health and Social Care (Reform) Act (NI) 2009, RQIA undertakes a range of responsibilities for people with a mental illness and those with a learning disability. These include:

  • Preventing ill treatment;
  • Remedying any deficiency in care or treatment;
  • Terminating improper detention in a hospital or guardianship; and
  • Preventing or redressing loss or damage to a patient’s property.