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16 January 2023

Duty of candour, making a complaint and Serious Untoward Incident investigation reports

This page will be updated with new information every Monday throughout this month, check back next week for the next installment.

Unfortunately, mistakes made during medical treatment are not uncommon, but there are processes in place to ensure transparency with patients around any mistakes made, as well as formal complaints and incident investigation procedures.

Duty of candour

When a medical professional recognises or identifies that they have made a mistake during treatment resulting in harm that could otherwise have been prevented, the duty of candour puts an obligation on them to be open and honest with the patient about the mistake. The goal of the duty of candour is for better relationships to be formed between patients and healthcare professionals.

This duty helps to ensure that patients receive a genuine apology for what has happened, and transparency around any mistakes. Internal investigations and actions can then be taken in an attempt to prevent this kind of mistake from happening again.

The organisation must provide the patient with an explanation of what happened and what further action will be taken. They must also provide an apology, and keep a written record of this. In a duty of candour report, there are three main points that are to be covered.

  1. What happened to the patient
  2. What will be done to remedy the mistake
  3. What will be put in place to avoid these mistakes in the future
Making a complaint about your treatment in hospital

You have the right to make a complaint if you have been treated poorly in hospital.

There are various ways to make a complaint:

  1. Complain directly to the hospital
    Hospitals usually have their complaints procedure on their website, or you can call the hospital to ask how to submit a complaint. Hospitals also tend to have leaflets or posters around the hospital that outline their complaints procedure
  2. Complain to the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)
    Each hospital has its own organisation that investigates your complaint, and they should keep you informed of the progress of your complaint and explain any conclusions made following the investigation. You can find information about your local group on the NHS website
  3. Complain to the independent parliamentary and health service ombudsman
    If you have complained to the hospital themselves and you are not satisfied with their response, you can take this route. The ombudsman is independent and makes final decisions about complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS

Complaints should be made to the hospital or CCG within 12 months of the incident, or when you became aware of the issue. If you are making a complaint to the ombudsman, this should be made within 12 months of it becoming clear to you that the hospital did not properly deal with your complaint.

Alternatively, you can seek legal advice. You do not have to use the NHS complaints procedure before you take legal action, but it may be helpful to do so to find out more information regarding the treatment you received. It is important not to wait too long before speaking to solicitors about taking legal action.

Serious Untoward Incident investigations

The purpose of the Serious Untoward Incident (SUI) investigation framework is to ensure that systems are in place for reporting and responding to serious incidents so that appropriate actions can be taken to prevent future harm.

If there has been a serious incident, the hospital has a duty to undertake an investigation. There is no set list of what constitutes a serious incident, but the below situations would require an investigation.

Acts and/or omissions that result in:

  • An unexpected or avoidable death
  • An unexpected or avoidable injury that has resulted in serious harm
  • Actual or alleged abuse
  • Inappropriate enforcement under the Mental Health Act 1983 and Mental Capacity Act 2005
  • A ‘Never Event’, i.e. something that should never have happened. Read more about ‘Never Events’ in our previous post here.

The investigation usually consists of the Trust considering the medical records and guidelines, and speaking with the clinicians involved in the patient’s care. The investigation should outline a chronology of the events and consider the factors that contributed to the outcome. The report will also set out recommendations for the hospital which are aimed to reduce the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future.

You are entitled to receive a copy of the Serious Untoward Incident report, it is often helpful to send this to a solicitor if you are seeking legal advice.

If you would like to seek further advice on making a complaint about your hospital treatment, or the potential of requesting a Serious Untoward Incident investigation, get in touch with our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team.

What to do if you receive an unsatisfactory response to a complaint or a Serious Untoward Incident report that raises concerns

If you have made a complaint about your treatment and you are not satisfied with the response, or you have received a Serious Untoward Incident report that raises concerns, get in touch with our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team. Alternatively, if you have not made a complaint about your treatment but feel as though your care was negligent, contact a member of the team for more information.

Visit our Medical Mondays hub for more information on the different injuries, accidents, and claims that are commonly encountered by our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team.

To find out more about our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team and the services we provide, visit our webpage here. If you’d like to speak to a member of the team, please submit an enquiry form.

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