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Habitual and Vexatious Complaints

Although Thyroid UK urges you to complain about bad treatment, you need to be aware of this procedure.

Most NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups and hospitals have a procedure for dealing with people who habitually complain or have habitually demanding or vexatious behaviour.  One definition of vexatious behaviour is to harass, distress, annoy, tease, cause trouble, agitate, disturb or pursue issues excessively.

If a patient (and/or anyone acting on their behalf) meets certain criteria, they are deemed to be habitual or vexations complainers.  The criteria vary slightly between providers but generally, a patient will be classed as a habitual or vexatious complainer if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • persisting in pursuing a complaint where the NHS complaints procedure has been fully and properly implemented and exhausted, but no appeal has been made to the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman
  • seeking to prolong contact by continually raising further concerns or questions upon receipt of a response. (Care must be taken not to discard new issues, which are significantly different from the original issue. These might need to be addressed as separate issues)
  • unwilling to accept documented evidence as being factual or denying receipt of an adequate response in spite of correspondence specifically answering their questions, or does not accept that facts can sometimes be difficult to verify when a long period of time has elapsed
  • does not clearly identify the precise problem, despite reasonable efforts of PCT staff and, where appropriate, the Independent Complaints and Advocacy Service (ICAS), to help them specify their concerns, and/or where the concerns are not within the remit of the PCT to investigate
  • focuses on a matter to an extent which is out of proportion to its significance and continues to focus on this point
  • has threatened or used actual physical violence towards staff or their families or associates. This will, of itself, cause personal contact with the person and/or their representatives to be discontinued and the issue will, thereafter, only be pursued through written communication
  • has harassed or been personally abusive or verbally aggressive on more than one occasion towards staff dealing with their issue or their families or associates. However, staff must recognise that people may sometimes act out of character at times of stress, anxiety or illness and should make reasonable allowances for this
  • has had, in the course of addressing an issue, an excessive number of contacts with the PCT, placing unreasonable demands on staff time or resources. (A contact may be in person, or by telephone, letter, fax or e-mail). Judgement must be used in determining what an "excessive number" of contacts is and this will be based on the specific circumstances of each individual case
  • has electronically recorded meetings or face to face/telephone conversations without the prior knowledge or consent of the other parties involved
  • displays unreasonable demands or expectations and fails to accept that these may be unreasonable (e.g. insists on responses to enquiries being provided more urgently than is reasonable or normally recognised practice)

If the above criteria are met, the patient will be sent warning letters first to inform them that they may be classed as “habitual or vexatious” and then there are further stages in the policy or procedure that must be adhered to.

Every organisation has its own policy or procedure that they must follow and you can usually find them on the internet for the relevant NHS Trust, Clinical Commissioning Group or hospital.

Date updated: 20/04/21 (V1.1)
Review date: 18/05/21

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