How to complain if you don't get quality care while giving birth

It can be very upsetting if you don't get the care you expected for your birth. But there are steps you can take to make a complaint - our guide talks you through them.

1 Speak to your healthcare professional

If you have concerns about your maternity care before you give birth - such as being able to give birth in a birth centre or at home, entitlement to say no to recommended procedures - speak to your healthcare professional or their manager as soon as possible.

You can also speak to a Supervisor of Midwives who can help and advise you. 

Supervisors of Midwives are experienced, practicing midwives who have undergone training in the knowledge and skills needed to supervise midwives. 

You can contact Supervisors of Midwives through your Local Supervising Authority

Whether you’re complaining before you give birth or after, you may want to make a note of your experience as soon as you can.

It may be a good idea to ask anyone else who was present with you to write down what they witnessed or experienced and give you a copy.

For more information, see our guide on your rights when giving birth.

Top tips

  • Make a note of your experience as soon as you can
  • In some areas, NHS midwives run a Birth Afterthoughts service offering you an opportunity to talk about your experience
  • Any complaints made to the NHS body responsible for your care should be made within 12 months of the date of treatment
  • You can escalate your complaint to the Health Service (NHS) Ombudsman

2 Birth Afterthoughts service

You can also request a meeting with your Head of Midwifery if you want to discuss your care before raising a formal complaint. 

In some areas, NHS midwives run a Birth Afterthoughts service which offers the opportunity to go through your experience of birth and try to resolve any unanswered questions you may have.

Your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) should be able to tell you whether a Birth Afterthoughts scheme operates in your area.

These services also give hospital trusts a chance to resolve queries, which may otherwise escalate into complaints.

3 Complain to the NHS

You can complain to the NHS body responsible for your care, which will generally be either a hospital trust or an ambulance trust.

You can also consider complaining to the NHS body that commissioned the maternity care you received, particularly if your complaint refers to policies or provision of a service or treatment, rather than the conduct of a particular individual.

Any formal complaints to the NHS must be made within 12 months of the date of your treatment.

Address your complaint to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust, or the GP Practice Manager.

Your complaint should be as detailed as possible, and provide the names of the people involved in your care, if you know them.

It is useful to include numbered points in your complaint so that you can make sure that the care provider has addressed all of the issues that you have raised.

4 Wait for a response

Once you have made a complaint, you should receive an acknowledgement from the care provider within two or three working days confirming that your complaint has been received, and indicating what should happen next.

The  response to your complaint must usually be sent to you within six months of the complaint being made.

If the care provider accepts that mistakes have been made in your care, they should apologise. NHS Trusts provide details of who to contact locally on their websites.

5 Complain to a professional body

You may also wish to complain to a professional body such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council where the complaint refers to a midwife or a nurse. 

If your complaint is about a doctor you can complain to the General Medical Council. Professional bodies usually expect the employer (ie the NHS body) to try and resolve the issue first before they get involved in any complaint.

6 Complain to the Health Service Ombudsman

If the relevant NHS body has not satisfactorily resolved your complaint, you can refer it to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in England, or the Public Services Ombudsman in Wales.

The ombudsman will generally only accept a complaint if attempts to resolve it at a local level with the relevant NHS body have been unsuccessful.

For more information read our guide on how to take a complaint to the Health Service (NHS) Ombudsman.

Take legal action

If you have exhausted all other options, you may be able to take legal action in relation to negligent treatment or any breach of your rights.

Any claim by, or on the behalf of, the mother must be issued within three years of the birth of the child.

Legal action is often expensive and you may not recover all of your costs so it is a good idea to seek independent legal advice first. 

For more information, refer to the Birth Rights website.

7 Make complaints count

Which? has launched a campaign to make complaints count in public services.

Research carried out by Which? reveals a third of people who have experienced a problem with public services in the past year didn't complain, with key reasons being not knowing who to complain to and thinking that it wouldn't be worth the effort.

The ‘Make complaints count’ campaign is calling on the government to pledge to be the champion of patients, parents and all users of public services.

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