Doctors told not to go it alone with complaints

By Douglas Shepherd

Consultants are being warned they are breaking the private practice complaints code if they respond separately to patients’ official complaints rather than jointly with the private hospital.

Concerns over several incidents have prompted The Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service (ISCAS) to write to providers pointing out this practice is unacceptable.

The code covers complaints about doctors and other healthcare professionals working within subscribing organisations, even where they are not directly employed by the organisation and have been granted practising privileges. 

ISCAS told independent healthcare providers (IHPs) in a statement: ‘ISCAS does not deem it acceptable for consultants with practising privileges – or other persons engaged by the IHP – to write separate responses to complainants and send their responses to complainants directly.’.

Sally Taber, director of the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service

The complaints watchdog director Sally Taber told Independent Practitioner Today she believed some instances of consultants breaking the rules were unintentional: ‘They may be unaware of the rules – even some providers are unaware of the rules.

‘In recent months, there have been a number of cases. But the patient should get a united response that is from the hospital and the consultant.

‘The patient has to be assured the hospital and consultant are on the same wavelength. Otherwise, with one saying one thing and another saying something entirely different, the patient will feel unhappy with the outcome of their complaint. 

‘There has to be a united response – it wouldn’t happen in the NHS because consultants are employed.’

A single response

ISCAS has directed providers to its position statement on complaints management and practising privileges, which clearly states that providers who subscribe to its services – the vast majority – are required to provide a single response to a complaint. 

‘This ISCAS position mirrors the position of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in defining staff in the broadest sense. The CQC define staff as “all persons employed or appointed for the purpose of providing a regulated activity”. 

‘The response to complaints shall be based on an investigation that involves all relevant persons, whether those are staff who are engaged through an employment contract, agency/bank staff or those who have been granted practising privileges. 

‘IHPs may need to obtain statements or feedback from those granted practising privileges in addition to other members of staff; however, they should be incorporated into a single response to the complainant from the IHP. 

‘The position of ISCAS is that the single response to a complaint should incorporate feedback from all relevant clinicians including consultants with practising privileges.’ 

The statement adds that providers who continue to permit multiple points of communication and responses to be forwarded to the complainant will be deemed to be non-compliant with the ISCAS Code.