Making a complaint about nurses or midwives

If you receive poor care from a nurse, midwife, or nursing associate then you may wish to raise a complaint. This guide provides information about how you can do this.

When can a complaint be made?

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is the regulatory body for nurses, midwives and nursing associates and investigates complaints made about individual professionals.

The NMC will investigate incidents that involve:

  • serious professional misconduct;
  • criminal offences;
  • concerns about a professional’s competence; and
  • addictions or mental illnesses that may affect a professional’s ability to practice.

The NMC will only consider complaints calling into question the individual’s current fitness to practice. The term “fitness to practice” concerns the professional’s skill, knowledge and character, and whether these attributes (or a lack of them) negatively impact their ability to carry out their job safely.

How to make a complaint

In almost all cases you should raise your complaint first with the Trust or private organisation that employs the nurse or midwife you are concerned about. An internet search can help you identify the Trust that runs the hospital or medical centre where you received poor care.

If you are concerned that a professional poses a continued threat to patient safety, or where you are not satisfied about the outcome of your complaint to the hospital Trust, then you can write to the NMC.

Any concerns or complaints made to the NMC should be submitted in an online form which can be found here, or you can make your complaint in a letter or email. In your complaint, you should set out the events that took place and your concerns about the health professional involved. The NMC will also have to identify the nurse or midwife involved so, if you are able, include the name of the professional, the date and time that you saw them, and the address of where the treatment took place. If you have made a complaint to the Trust, then you should include copies of your complaint and the response you received.

You will also need to agree to your complaint being disclosed to the nurse or midwife involved in order for them to provide a response.

NMC Investigations: What happens next

When the NMC receives a new complaint it will begin by screening it to make sure that they are able to make an effective investigation. This includes checking that you have provided enough information about what happened and about the identity of the health professional involved. The NMC will also consider whether or not the allegations are serious enough that the nurse or midwife may pose a risk to members of the public and whether or not there is evidence that your concerns or complaints have already been addressed by the individual.

The NMC may not take your complaint any further at the screening stage if they do not feel that the matter relates to a nurse or midwife’s ability to practice safely, if they do not have enough information to identify the healthcare professional, or if they cannot obtain evidence in support of your complaint.

If it is decided that further investigation is necessary, then an investigator will be assigned to your complaint and should contact you within three weeks. The investigation can take up to one year. An investigator is likely to require access to your medical records which you will be asked to agree to.

The NMC will then consider whether the actions of the individual mean that they may not be competent to practice as a nurse or midwife. They will look at the incident that took place as well as the professional’s knowledge, skill and judgment to decide whether the nurse or midwife is not fit to practice due to:

  • misconduct: professional conduct falling short of what is expected of an individual.
  • lack of competence: this is most likely in continued incidence of poor performance which could put patients at risk.
  • cases investigated by the police which have not led to a conviction.
  • poor knowledge of English: this is where a poor standard of English could result in wrong prescriptions, poor record keeping or a failure to handover information about a patient’s treatment due to a language barrier.

After the investigation, a report will be produced and the individual being investigated will have 28 days to comment on the findings. After this 28 day period, the NMC will decide on the next necessary steps. They may:

  • give a warning to the healthcare professional or agree a plan to ensure that they are safe to continue working with patients;
  • close the case with no further action;
  • decide to refer the case to a fitness to practice committee.

Fitness to Practice Committees (FtPC)

If your case goes to a fitness to practice committee then it will likely be dealt with by a FtPC meeting.

During a fitness to practice meeting the committee will meet with legal assessors and consider the paperwork produced up until this point. The meeting is private and so neither you nor the healthcare professional will be present during the meeting. The results of the meeting, the committee’s decision and reasons for their decision will be made public.

In some cases, the FtPC may conduct a live hearing and you may be called as a witness. It is normal for the nurse, midwife or nurse associate to have legal representation at a hearing, and you can as well, although this is less common. The decision of the FtPC hearing will be sent to you in writing.

What sanctions can be imposed as a result of the FtPC?

After the meeting or hearing, the FtPC can impose the following sanctions on a nurse or midwife:

  • a caution of 1-5 years;
  • conditions of practice for a period of up to 3 years;
  • suspend the healthcare professional for up to 1 year;
  • strike off the individual from the register.

Contact us if you are concerned about the care provided to you by a nurse, midwife or nurse associate, or if you have a question about medical negligence.