How to complain about a private health treatment?

Private Health Treatment

As a private patient you should complain to the doctor who treated you or the hospital or clinic you attended. Most major private hospital groups and medical insurance companies have a complaints procedure – the Independent Healthcare Association, a charity that presses for improved standards in private healthcare, has one for all its member institutions. Private clinics and hospitals, and doctors and other professionals in private practice, have third-party insurance, so if legal action arises any damages are paid by an insurance company.

Legal Action

If any aspect of your private care fails to meet minimum standards, no matter whether the care is paid for by you or a health insurance policy, you should consider legal action. Ask the Law Society for a list of solicitors specialising in medical malpractice, who can advise you.

You can sue for a negligent treatment. You can also sue for a breach of contract. As a private patient you have a contract with the doctor. So, if the doctor fails to perform the services for which you paid, or you received sub-standard treatment, you may be entitled to damages.  

Care Standards

The National Care Standards Commission in England and the Care Standards inspectorate in Wales are independent patient watchdogs that regulate private and voluntary health services.  

If a private health provider handles a complaint unsatisfactorily, you can refer the matter to the area office of the Commission or inspectorate. Ask for details of its complaints procedure. It will investigate your case, and if there is evidence of a breach in regulations or standards, it can order changes and improvements. It is capable of close down clinics and hospitals. However, it cannot award any financial compensation. 

Complaining to a Private Clinic

You paid for a day-case cataract removal in a private clinic and told the nurse who took your details that you are allergic to latex in surgical gloves. During the operation you had a serious reaction and had to stay in the hospital for three more days. The surgeon says it is not his fault because the details of your allergy were not in his notes. You think the nursing staff forgot to pass on the information.

Please rest assures because the hospital system must ensure that important details given by a patient on arrival are communicated to the doctors and others responsible for the patient’s care. But the surgeon should also have checked that you did not have any allergies.

You must decide what you want: an apology; reimbursement of fees you have paid, to make certain that a safe system is put into place; or compensation. Then check through the Independent Healthcare Association whether the clinic has a complaints procedure, and ask if you can use it to make a formal complaint.

Get further advice

If you think the complaint is serious enough, you may be tempted to withhold payment – but be aware that the doctor or hospital could sue you to recover the payment. You should take legal advice before choosing this course of action.

If you suspect that medical treatment or lack of treatment may have caused or contributed to the death of a friend or relative, you should contact the local coroner as soon as possible as a post-mortem examination may be needed.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.