7 April 2009
Q. If I receive a complaint from a patient by email do NHS regulations allow me to respond by email?
Paragraph 15 Local Authority Social Services & NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009 states:
Any communication which is required by these Regulations to be made to a complainant may be sent to the complainant electronically where the complainant -
a. has consented in writing or electronically; and
b. has not withdrawn such consent in writing or electronically.
Any requirement in these Regulations for a document to be signed by a person is satisfied, in the case of a document which is sent electronically in accordance with these Regulations, by the individual who is authorised to sign the document typing their name or producing their name using a computer or other electronic means.
Many patients have access to email. So when the email is acknowledged check with them to see that they are happy to receive further email correspondence about this subject before allowing the nominated complaints handler in the practice to respond to the complaint in any detail. If the patient is amenable for you to proceed in this way then it may expedite matters.
However, care should be taken to ensure that any correspondence is sent in an appropriate format by the designated complaints handler for the practice. There is sometimes the temptation for a well meaning instant response to be provided which it later transpires is incomplete or inappropriate in some way.
It can also be tempting, in order to strengthen the response, to copy the email to another party such as Dental Protection - but this can sometimes be counter productive. Appropriate care should also be taken in relation to the confidentiality of any response sent by email; some email addresses are more public than others.
You can read more about the new NHS complaints regulations here.