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Complaining to a health and social care trust in Northern Ireland

This page explains your rights as a patient or carer when complaining to a health and social care trust in Northern Ireland. If you’re receiving healthcare from a privately-run clinic, you’ll need to contact it directly about the complaints procedure.

All public health bodies have certain rules and regulations that they need to follow by law, including about complaints. Contact your local patient advocacy service for more information.

When to complain and who to contact

Complaints should be made no later than between six and 12 months after the incident. This timeframe can sometimes be extended if you have a good enough reason. For example, the incident might have left you traumatised or unable to complain sooner. It must still be possible to investigate the complaint.

Contact details for the complaints departments at each trust can be found on the nidirect website  .

Patient rights and response times 

An acknowledgement should be sent within two to three days, with a formal response delivered in 20 days if your complaint is about a health and social care trust or board. A response should arrive within 10 days if you’re complaining about a GP or dentist. Sometimes investigations will take longer, but you’ll be regularly updated.

If you’re not happy with the outcome

If you’re not happy, you can take your complaint to the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints   (the Ombudsman). The Ombudsman will look at your complaint and decide whether to investigate it. The Ombudsman will usually require that you have attempted to escalate your complaint through the trust before it will accept it.

You’ll need to include the following information alongside the facts of the complaint:

  • All your personal details including contact phone number and address.
  • Name and location of anyone who’s dealt with your complaint to date.
  • Outcome of previous complaints and why you believe they’re unjust.

Keep copies of everything you post and note down when it was sent.

Organisations that can help

Healthcare regulators

The role of the regulator is to monitor all the health and social care professionals practising in the UK, whether private or government-funded. It makes sure that doctors, GPs, dentists and other care professionals are meeting national standards.

In Northern Ireland, this is done by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority   (RQIA).

Patient advice, liaison and advocacy

The Patient and Client Council was set up by the government to help patients in Northern Ireland understand their rights, and support them in the complaints procedure. Visit its website   for more information about how to make a complaint.

Reporting professional misconduct 

The Health and Care Professionals Council   (HCPC) is a register of accredited medical practitioners in the UK working in 16 industries, including occupational therapists and dieticians. Its website has a detailed guide to reporting someone on the HCPC register if you suspect them of professional misconduct.

If you want to report a nurse, contact the Nursing and Midwifery Council  .

If you want to report a doctor, contact the General Medical Council  .

Legal advice and compensation

If you’ve had a medical accident, contact the charity Action against Medical Accidents   (AVMA) for advice on next steps, including compensation.

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