Information Unlimited; No.9 choosing and changing your doctor

ALL THE FACTS YOU NEED TO AVOID HEARTACHE
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The Independent Culture
EVERYONE IS entitled to be registered with a general practitioner (GP), but if your GP is a long distance from your house you may not be eligible for home visits. It is worth doing a little investigation to ensure you've registered with the most appropriate doctor for your needs.

The Patient's Charter aims to set out standards of care within the NHS. The charter also includes what it considers reasonable waiting times for treatment, seeing consultants etc. To get hold of a copy call your local Health Authority or NHS Health Literature Helpline on 0800 555777.

Tips about choosing a doctor

n Lists of GPs in your area are available from local libraries, the post office and your local Health Authority.

n Check whether it is a single or group practice and what extra resources they have access to.

n Is there an appointment or a queuing system?

n Do the practice doctors cover for each other, or can you see the same doctor each time?

n Are there surgeries after working hours and what are the arrangements for home visits?

n Can you have a pre-registration interview to meet your doctor and discuss your needs?

Changing GP

n Most practices have a choice of GPs available so if you are unhappy you may find a new doctor without having to move practice.

n You have the right to change - it is relatively easy if the new practice has space on their list.

n Your Health Authority is responsible for ensuring you find another doctor.

n Doctors also have a choice of who they want to take on or whether they keep you on. If there are consistent problems, with aggressive behaviour for example, they can ask a patient to leave.

n If you want a second opinion on your doctor's diagnosis, your doctor may arrange it for you under the NHS.

Your right to complain

Every practice and hospital has an internal complaints system. Most complaints are due to a communication breakdown between patient and doctor and many of these can be smoothed out with the doctor directly or the practice manager. However, if the complaint is of a more serious nature and involves clinical judgment, under the Patient's Charter you have the right to have any complaint about NHS services investigated and be given a full and prompt reply.

Who to approach

n If you want to pursue your complaint further contact your local Health Authority, they should acknowledge it within two days and sort out an informal complaint within a month.

n The Health Authority has a `complaints manager' who may suggest asking a `lay conciliator' to meet you and the doctor to try and clear up the problem.

n The CHC (Community Health Council) is an independent body which offers a free and confidential service to help you put your complaint into writing and offer some emotional support.

The procedure is always the same and begins with `Local Resolution' - an attempt to sort out matters directly with the doctor or hospital involved. Call 0171-609 8405 to find details of your nearest CHC.

n If you are not happy with the response you receive from either `Local Resolution' or the `Complaints Manager', you can ask for an `Independent Review Panel' to be set up. You must make this request within 28 days of their response and you are not guaranteed further investigation.

Independent Reviews are difficult and expensive to set up and the end result can be a simple, written apology.

n If you are refused a Review Panel and you don't think it is fair, you can complain to the National Health Service Ombudsman, tel: 0171-276 2035 and in Wales, tel: 01222 394 621. The Ombudsman can investigate independently.

n If you want disciplinary action to be taken against the person involved, contact the professional body they are registered with, for instance for doctors, General Medical Council 0171-580 7642, the General Dental Council 0171-887 3800 for dentists.

n If you want to get financial compensation you will have to take legal action and prove negligence. Legal advice is vital. Contact Action for Victims of Medical Negligence, 0181-686 8333.

n The Patient's Association offers independent advice on good practice and general advice on health care problems. Helpline 0181-423 8999.

n Which? The Independent Consumer Guide, September 1997 issue, has a full report on NHS complaints procedure, see your local library.

n Call the National Health Information Service on 0800 665544 for general information.

Stating your case

n Be clear about the nature of your complaint and your objective.

n Write down exactly what has happened, giving dates and times.

n Explain what you think the doctor has done wrong.

n Enclose photocopies of any relevant documents, prescriptions, medical records and any previous letters about the complaint which have been sent to or from other organisations.

n Give names and addresses of any witnesses who could back up your case.

n You can complain on behalf of another person even if you are not related to them.

`Women Unlimited - The Directory for Life', Penguin pounds 9.99

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