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How to complain about private treatment

Each year, more than a million people are treated in the UK’s private hospitals. The majority of them will be completely satisfied. However, sometimes things do go wrong and you may want to make a formal complaint about your private medical / dental treatment. This may relate to the healthcare professional, the hospital, clinic or private care home concerned.

This article is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.


Under the NHS, hospitals take responsibility for any mistakes made by their staff. But with private treatment, it is more common to have a separate contract with the consultant or surgeon who isn’t directly employed by the hospital. Therefore, you may need to make multiple complaints if you had more than one issue; for instance, the consultant and the hospital food.

How to complain

If you can’t resolve the issue by discussing it with your private medical or dental treatment consultant in person, ask for a copy of the hospital’s complaints procedure. Write directly to the person in charge of complaints with the following details:

  • A statement of your complaint, giving details of when and where it happened, and the names and job titles of the staff involved
  • Details of any verbal complaint you have already made, and the outcome
  • Questions you would like answered
  • Details of what you would like to happen, such as an explanation or compensation
  • A request that you would like your complaint investigated.

Complaints procedure

There is no standard complaints procedure enforced among private hospitals, so it is up to the hospital to follow its own code of practice. However, 9 out of 10 hospitals choose to follow a standard code created by the Independent Healthcare Forum. If you’re dealing with one of these hospitals, you can expect the following response.

  • A written acknowledgement of your complaint within 7 working days
  • A full response, possibly after an investigation, after 5 weeks
  • An explanation of what happened and, if your complaint was upheld, an apology and details of how the situation will be avoided in future
  • A compensation if you experienced disappointment, annoyance or inconvenience.

If you are not happy with the hospital’s response, you can request an internal appeal where a senior member of staff will review your complaint.

If, after the review, you are still not satisfied you can ask for the Independent Healthcare Forums’ external adjudication panel to look into your case. You must do this within a month of your appeal. The panel will reply with a written decision within 2 months. If your complaint is upheld, the panel can order the hospital to pay you compensation or to take particular action.

Further action

If you are still not happy with the result, you may pursue the complaint by contacting the following organisations:

Healthcare Commission – is the independent watchdog for healthcare in the UK. It has a review procedure for unresolved complaints about private treatment, including care paid for by the NHS. However, it has no remit to help get your money back after poor private treatment.

Local health authority – private hospitals have to register with local health authorities, which inspect them twice a year. This gives them some power to investigate complaints.

Commission for Social Care Inspection – is the regulator for the care home and social care sector. It can investigate your private treatment complaint and take action.

Professional healthcare bodies – there are separate regulators to contact depending on the nature of the healthcare professional:

Private health insurer – you can take your complaint to your insurance provider. If it can’t provide a satisfactory resolution, you should take your case to the Financial Ombudsman, which resolves disputes between financial service providers and their customers.

Legal advice

If you think the complaint is serious enough, consider withholding payment. But be aware that the doctor or hospital may sue you to recover the money. It is wise to take legal advice before taking this course of action.

You may wish to initiate court proceedings yourself. Private treatment professionals have a duty of care and you can sue them if they are negligent. However, think carefully before you pursue this route. Are you looking for financial compensation or just an admission of liability and an apology? The Patients Association can give you more information on taking legal action.

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