For families of children and young people with SEN and disabilities helpline 01273 772289

healthcare complaints

Our GPs, hospitals and specialist services most often do a great job. However, occasionally, you may not be happy with the treatment your child receives or, in extreme cases, feel you have a right to compensation or legal redress. This section tells you about making a complaint about healthcare.


It’s almost always best to start with the person most directly involved. Quite often complaints turn out to be due to misunderstandings and can be cleared up quickly by a conversation or letter. But, if this doesn’t work and you need to go to someone else within the service, a complaint can sometimes put things right not only for you, but also for others coming after you.

We had quite a problem because the hospital was very, very busy … we went to visit her and she was fitting and nobody was with her, and it was really horrific, and so we had to do something about that and so we discharged her right away. But we went and talked to the sister and she was brilliant, and she said ‘please complain’.

The best place to start for advice about health complaints is Healthwatch Brighton & Hove. They are a local watchdog service that offer advice and information about health and health related services. They can tell you where to go next. They can link you up with the PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) for the right health trust who may be able to resolve concerns locally and informally through liaison with the relevant NHS staff, without making a formal complaint. Visit the Healthwatch website. Or they can refer you to the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service who may help you to make a formal complaint.

If you decide to complain formally the NHS has a two stage process. Stage one is ‘local resolution’ and is about trying to sort out your complaint with the local bit of the health service responsible for the service or issue in your complaint. Stage two involves complaining to the Health Service Ombudsman. At stage one you will need to address your complaint to the Chief Executive of the organisation involved with delivering the care. Each Trust will have information outlining their complaints procedures and ICAS will help you find this.

If you are not happy with the outcome of your local complaint you can go to stage two – the Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is independent of the NHS and the service is free and confidential. Again Healthwatch can give information about taking complaints to the Ombudsman and ICAS can give impartial advice.

It won’t be any good going to local councillors about things which are only to do with health, as these issues are not their concern, but you can try your MP.


If you believe your child has been the victim of a medical accident and could be entitled to financial compensation, you might want to consider taking legal action against the person or establishment concerned. Of course, a good financial settlement would make a huge difference to a child’s long term future, as well as to the peace of mind of parents and siblings. However, it is as well to be aware of the possible drawbacks. You could speak to Healthwatch first to look at other ways of resolving the issue.

Lawsuits can be very expensive, and unless you win you will not get your costs paid. Legal Aid is unlikely to be available. The process can take a very long time, sometimes years. You will need plenty of stamina and, above all, good legal advice. If you do decide to carry on with legal action, you can get free preliminary advice from Action for Victims of Medical Accidents (AVMA). They can tell you whether your case is worth pursuing and can also suggest a good solicitor.

sign up to our newsletter