Coronavirus: Information for complaint handling teams

We have been actively monitoring the development of coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on our work. At this time of national emergency, we have decided that we should not place additional burdens on the NHS at this time.

From Thursday 26 March we will not accept new health service complaints nor progress existing ones where this requires contact with the NHS. 

We will continue to progress complaints about UK Government departments for the time being, although we recognise that many of their resources are also stretched and will keep this under review.

The questions and answers below provide further information for complaint handlers.

What does ‘pausing’ actually mean for ongoing investigations?

We will only progress health cases (both assessments and investigations) up to the point we need to get clinical advice or contact a health organisation.

Will there be any exceptions?

We are mindful of our responsibility to support vulnerable people who may be distressed by work pausing on their complaint. In these cases, we will continue to ensure that appropriate action is taken, where we can as well as signposting people to organisations who can provide support. If you have such a case your PHSO Caseworker will be in touch to agree how to take this forward.

What should I do if I am contacted by a complainant on a case currently being dealt with by PHSO?

Please inform the complainant that PHSO has paused its work on new and existing NHS complaints that involve contacting the health service and direct them to our website where they can find more information. PHSO caseworkers will be contacting existing complainants in due course to advise them when we are unable to do any further work on their case.

We have completed the local complaints process and are  issuing a final decision. Should I still refer the complainant to the PHSO?

No. Please use the following paragraph:

If you’re not happy with how we’ve dealt with your complaint, you are entitled to raise your complaint with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. However, please note that the Ombudsman is currently not accepting any new complaints about the National Health Service because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is to help ensure the NHS can focus its resources on providing urgent healthcare. You can find out more information on the Ombudsman’s website

What should local complaints teams do?

This is a very challenging time and each organisation will need to decide what is most appropriate in the circumstances for them. You should inform complainants of any changes to your complaints handling procedures, including if there are delays in responding to complaints.   

Will the Ombudsman penalise us for delays caused by the pandemic?

No. We will ensure that we take into consideration the impact of the pandemic on all decisions you have had to make during this difficult time.

How will this affect your consideration of the 12-month time limit for bringing complaints to the Ombudsman?

If the health complaint is in time as of 26 March 2020, we will continue to treat it as in time when we resume consideration of health complaints.

Government departments are also under extreme pressure so why are you not pausing these investigations as well?

We are mindful of the extreme pressure the NHS is current under in trying to tackle coronavirus. The decision to pause health complaints is our way of ensuring we do not place additional burdens on stretched NHS resources at this time. We are aware of the different pressures that coronavirus is placing on Government Departments and we will continue to monitor the situation. 

When will you resume normal service?

We will regularly review the overall position to decide when it would be right to restart our work.  That is likely to be at a time when the NHS will be able to respond to our enquiries without causing an unnecessary burden on the resources being used to respond to the pandemic. When this happens, we will let you know and post information about next steps on our website. 

Stay updated

Please continue to check our website or follow us on Twitter for further updates.

Read our latest update for more information about the impact coronavirus is having on our service.