Making a complaint about a health service
This document describes the complaints system for public health services provided by, or on behalf of, the Health Service Executive (HSE).
Private health services: For information about making a complaint about a private health service, visit healthcomplaints.ie, a website which provides information on making complaints about private and public health services.
Public health services: There is a HSE complaints system for anyone seeking or getting public health or social care services provided by the HSE. The complaints system also covers 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.
What can you make a complaint 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
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 a deceased person?
Yes. In such cases the complaint may be made by a close relative or carer. A close relative includes a parent, guardian, son, daughter, spouse or cohabiting partner. The complaint must be made within 12 months of the date of the action giving rise to the complaint or of the person becoming aware of the action. A complaints officer may extend the time limit if there are special circumstances involved.
Which complaints are not covered?
You cannot complain about something that:
- Is, or has been, the subject of legal proceedings before a court or tribunal.
- Relates only to the clinical judgment (medical decision) of a person acting on behalf of the HSE or a service provider.
- Was an action taken by the HSE or a service provider solely on the advice of someone exercising their clinical judgment.
- Relates to the recruitment, appointment or terms and conditions of an employee or advisor of the HSE or a service provider.
- Relates to the registration of births, marriages and deaths that could be the subject of an appeal (Section 60 of the Civil Registration Act 2004).
- Could prejudice an investigation being undertaken by the Gardaí.
- 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.)
How does the HSE complaints procedure operate?
See 'How to apply’, below, for information on how to make a complaint.
The complaints officer will receive a copy of all written complaints. If you make a verbal complaint that is not resolved at the first point of contact, the complaints officer will be informed.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, the complaints officer, with the consent of the people involved, may consider if an informal resolution might be appropriate. As part of the informal resolution, the complaints officer may arrange a meeting between the parties concerned or use mediation services. If informal resolution is not appropriate or does not succeed, the complaints officer will start a formal investigation of the complaint.
Following the investigation of the complaint, the complaints officer will make a recommendation.
If you wish, you may ask for a review of that recommendation and there will be an internal review.
Written complaints will be acknowledged within 5 working days and the complaint will be investigated within 30 working days. 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.
Service providers may put their own procedures in place by agreement with the HSE. It is a condition of the agreement between the HSE and service providers that service providers will comply with the HSE complaints procedure, or establish its own complaints procedures. It’s also a condition that the service provider will co-operate with the HSE in any review of a complaints officer’s recommendation following the investigation of a complaint against the service provider.
Complaints under the Disability Act 2005
The Disability Act 2005 provides for, among other things, the assessment of need of people with disabilities and the consequent drawing up of service statements.
There is also a complaints and appeals procedure under the Disability Act 2005 which you can use if you are unhappy with your child's assessment or service statement or delivery of related services.
There is no fee to make a formal complaint about a public health or personal social service provided by the HSE or on behalf of the HSE.
How to apply
If you wish to make a complaint, you should first try to resolve the problem locally. That means, bringing the complaint 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 satisfied with the outcome, you can make your complaint through the formal complaints mechanism. There are a number of ways to make a complaint to the HSE, including by mail, phone, email, online, or through advocacy or accessibility services.
If you have a disability and require support to make a complaint, you may be eligible for support from the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities.
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.
It is advisable to make your formal complaint in writing, giving as much detail as you can. Written complaints will be acknowledged within 5 working days and the complaint will be investigated within 30 days. If the investigation takes longer than 30 days, the HSE will keep you updated about progress on your complaint every 20 working days.
Following the investigation, you will receive a written response to your complaint and will be advised of your right to have an internal review of the recommendation of the complaints officer. You will also be told of your right to complain to the Ombudsman.
What happens if you exhaust the complaints process?
If you have exhausted the health service complaints process, you may complain to the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children. Their role is not changed by this complaints procedure. Actions taken by service providers under agreements with the HSE will be considered to have been taken by the HSE for the purposes of the legislation governing each Ombudsman. This, in effect, extends the Ombudsman’s remit to these service providers.
The law does not provide for a mechanism for implementing the recommendations of a complaints officer or for what is to happen if the recommendation is not implemented.
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.
The Patient Advocacy Service can provide information and support if you are making a complaint about your experience in a public hospital.