Making a complaint about a health service

Complaints system for public health services

There is a HSE complaints system for anyone using:

  • Public health or social care services provided by the HSE
  • Service providers who provide health or social care services on behalf of the HSE

If you want to make a complaint about your experience in a public hospital, the Patient Advocacy Service (PAS) can provide information and support. The service is independent, free and confidential and it applies to public acute hospitals that are funded by the HSE.

Private Health Services

If you are making a complaint about a private health service, you can complain directly to the private service provider or contact the regulating body. You usually can’t complain to the HSE or to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children about private health services.

What can you complain about?

You can make a complaint about an action of the HSE or service provider that affects you and that you do not think is fair or reliable administrative practice.

Administrative practice means the way that decisions are made and how services operate.

For example, administrative practice is not considered fair or reliable if it is:

  • Taken without proper authority
  • Taken on irrelevant grounds
  • The result of negligence or carelessness
  • Based on wrong or incomplete information
  • Improperly discriminatory

Complaints that are not covered

You cannot complain about:

  • An issue that is, or has been, the subject of legal proceedings before a court or tribunal
  • A clinical judgment (medical decision) of a person acting on behalf of the HSE or a service provider
  • An action taken by the HSE or a service provider that was solely based on the advice of someone using their clinical judgment
  • The recruitment, appointment or terms and conditions of an employee or advisor of the HSE or a service provider
  • The registration of births, marriages and deaths that could be the subject of an appeal (Section 60 of the Civil Registration Act 2004)
  • Something that could prejudice an investigation being undertaken by the Gardaí
  • An issue that has been brought before any other statutory complaints procedure (this does not prevent a complaints officer dealing with a complaint that was made to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children.)

Who can make a complaint?

If you are unable to make a complaint on your own behalf due to your age, illness or disability, someone else can make a complaint on your behalf.

The people who can make a complaint on your behalf include:

  • A close relative or carer.
  • Anyone appointed by law or the courts to take care of your affairs.
  • A legal representative.
  • Anyone else with your consent.
  • Anyone who is appointed, as set out in the Regulations.

Can a complaint be made on behalf of someone who has died?

Yes, if you are a close relative or carer you can complain on behalf of someone who has died.

A close relative includes a:

  • Parent or guardian
  • Son or daughter
  • Spouse or cohabiting partner

You must make the complaint within 12 months of the date of the event you want to complain about or within 12 months of the person becoming aware of the issue. A complaints officer may extend the time limit if there are special circumstances involved.

Complaints system for service providers

Service providers can put their own complaints procedures in place once the HSE agrees to this.

The agreement is subject to these conditions:

  • Service providers must comply with the HSE complaints procedure, or have their own complaints procedures
  • Service providers must cooperate with the HSE in any review of a complaints officer’s recommendation following the investigation of a complaint against the service provider

How to complain to the HSE

You should first try to resolve the problem locally by bringing it to the attention of the person in charge of the service. For example, the ward sister in the case of a hospital complaint, or the supervisor in charge for other services.

If you are not happy with the outcome, you can make your complaint through the formal HSE complaints system. You can do this by post, phone, email, online, or through advocacy or accessibility services.

It’s best to make your formal complaint in writing, giving as much detail as you can. You should include:

  • Who was involved
  • Where it happened
  • What happened and when
  • What you are concerned about
  • Any action you have taken to try to resolve the issue
  • What you want to happen now

The HSE must:

  • Acknowledge written complaints within 5 working days
  • Investigate the complaint within 30 days

Keep you updated about progress on your complaint every 20 working days, if the investigation takes longer than 30 days.

If you need help to make a complaint

If you have a disability and need help to make a complaint, you may be eligible for support from the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities.

You can use the complaints and appeals procedure under the Disability Act 2005 if you are unhappy with your child's assessment or service statement or delivery of related services.

If your complaint is about an experience in a public acute hospital, the Patient Advocacy Service (PAS) provides a free, independent and confidential service to help you make your complaint and to respond to the outcome.

What happens once I make the complaint?

The complaints officer will get a copy of all written complaints. The complaints officer will be told if you made a verbal complaint that is not resolved at the first point of contact.

Depending on the complaint, the complaints officer can suggest an informal resolution, if both parties agree. The complaints officer may arrange a meeting between the parties or use mediation services. If informal resolution is not appropriate or does not work, the complaints officer will start a formal investigation of the complaint.

HSE decision on your complaint

Following the investigation of the complaint, the complaints officer will make a recommendation.

You will get a written response to your complaint. You will be told of your right to have an internal review and of your right to go to the Ombudsman.

You can ask for a review of that recommendation and there will be an internal review.

Taking your complaint further

You can complain to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children if you are not happy with the HSE investigation.

The Ombudsman is fair, independent and free to use.

Any actions taken by service providers under agreements with the HSE are considered to have been taken by the HSE for the purposes of the Ombudsman investigation.

More information

There is more information about the complaints procedure in Your Service, Your Say – HSE Complaints Policy (pdf).

The HSE’s national information line is Freephone 1800 700 700 or (041) 685 0300.

If you are making a complaint about your experience in a public hospital, you can get information and help from the Patient Advocacy Service.

Page edited: 17 August 2023