Illness can be stressful whether you're in hospital or under the care of a health professional, and you should expect to be treated with courtesy, dignity and compassion and to have your worries and fears listened to with kindness. Should anyone on the NHS staff fail in their duty of care to you and verbally abuse you or a member of your family, you have every right to make a complaint via NHS complaints procedures and patient advocacy services.
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Ask to speak to the person in charge. That might be the GP surgery manager, the ward sister or charge nurse, or a department head. Explain what has happened and ask to make a formal complaint via the Patient Advice and Liaison Service or PALS. Be as calm and clear as you can, or ask a friend or relative to make the request if you are upset and distressed. Verbal abuse is not acceptable, and if someone has verbally abused you, they might be doing the same to others who are equally vulnerable.
Write down what happened, the time and date, and the words that were used. These details are needed for the complaint form that the PALS representative supplies to you. Her job is to listen carefully to your concerns; find out exactly what has happened; and, where necessary, escalate the complaint to a senior manager who will instigate a disciplinary procedure where appropriate.
Expect to wait for a week or two before the issue is resolved, while the investigation is carried out and any appropriate action is taken. You will receive a personal apology, either verbally or written, and disciplinary steps will be taken against the person who verbally abused you to ensure that the incident is not repeated.
Do not feel guilty, awkward or intimidated about making a complaint, and do not worry that your standard of care from other NHS staff will be adversely affected. Verbal abuse is a serious issue and with very few exceptions, all staff members of the NHS take their duty of care very seriously. Additionally, under UK law you are protected from any discrimination or abuse based on what the UK government website Direct.gov lists as "age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation".
Tips and warnings
- The above procedure relates to complaints procedures in England. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, ask to speak to the Complaints Manager if there is no PALS office available in your region. The procedure for making a complaint is the same.
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- NHS Choices: How Do I Make a Complaint About an NHS Service?
- Patient Advice and Liaison Service: Complaints and Concerns
- NHS Scotland; Making a Complaint About the NHS; October 2007
- Patient and Client Council: Who You Should Complain To
- NHS Wales; Complaints in the NHS -- A Guide to Handling Complaints in Wales; 2003
- Direct.gov: Discrimination -- What Are Your Rights?