Not happy with your NHS asthma care?

Here’s some advice on what to do when you feel you’re not getting the care you need from the NHS

Your GP team is a vital part of your asthma care

We all want to trust that the care we’re getting from our GP practice is the best we can get. The good news is that the majority of people in our annual survey state that they are satisfied with their asthma care. However, 15 per cent rate the asthma care they’re getting as poor. Here we outline how you can give feedback or make a complaint to the NHS if you’re not happy.

The GP’s wider team

GPs usually work as part of a wider team including:

  • An asthma nurse specialist, or a practice nurse, who may see you for routine asthma appointments, or check-ups
  • A practice manager who is responsible for the efficient running of the GP surgery – so get in touch with them if you’re having issues getting a telephone consultation, or same-day appointments.
  • GP receptionists will be your key point of contact for booking appointments. People with asthma tell us it can sometimes be a problem getting a same-day appointment for their asthma when their symptoms flare up. If this is the case for you, explain to the receptionist how important it is that you are seen on the same day, For example, tell them you’re following an asthma action plan and based on your symptoms it recommends a same day appointment. You could also see if the GP can put a note on your record for the next time you call.

What does good GP care for asthma look like?

Your GP, and your asthma nurse, both play an important role working alongside you to look after your asthma. For example they can:

  • Help you towards a confirmed asthma diagnosis
  • Prescribe preventers to prevent asthma symptoms, and life-saving reliever medicines for your asthma
  • Review your asthma and the medicines you’re taking on a regular basis to make sure you’re on the lowest dose possible to stay well
  • Show you the best way to take your inhalers so you get the full benefit from them
  • Make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date
  • Talk to you about the best ways to manage your asthma
  • Refer you to stop smoking support or specialist care

Not working well with your GP or asthma nurse?

If you’re not happy with the care you’re getting from your GP or asthma nurse the best thing to do is talk to them about it, if you can. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up directly to your GP try talking to the practice manager at the surgery, who can advise you what to do, and suggest other options such as switching to another GP.

Most GP practices have several different GPs, and some have asthma nurse appointments too, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to see someone different. Ask if there’s someone with experience of respiratory conditions, or a nurse with specialist asthma knowledge.

The sooner you can get things resolved the better, because if you don’t feel you have a good relationship with your GP or asthma nurse it'll be harder to manage your asthma well.

“If you think your doctor or asthma nurse aren’t providing enough care or the correct treatments it’s important to speak up about it. Make sure you ask if you don’t understand why something has or hasn’t been done, or why things seem to be taking a long time. Sometimes a bit of explanation can make everything fall into place” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK's in-house GP.

Should I make a complaint?

Sometimes you might come away dissatisfied from an appointment with a GP or asthma nurse but not sure it’s worth making a complaint about, or if you even want to.

Whatever you feel uneasy about, give our asthma nurses a call on the Helpline to talk it through. They can help you work out if you’re getting the care you need, and can offer solutions on how you can improve things with your GP.

You can also get in touch with the NHS Complaints Advocacy Service who can talk you through your concerns, give you advice, and support you if you do make a complaint. They can offer an advocate to attend meetings with you, and help focus the conversation so that something positive comes out of it, such a clear plan of action.

It can help to remember that the NHS encourages you to tell them when you’re not getting the care or support that you need, whether this is direct to your GP surgery, or through your local health provider:

“Negative feedback provides an opportunity to improve care and services. It might also flag up to the team where changes might prevent a more serious problem occurring," says Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.

How to make an effective complaint

When you’re thinking of making a complaint, ask yourself:

  • What you want to complain about? Be specific, and to the point, and give examples, such as: "My GP didn’t take me seriously when I spoke about symptoms at our appointment on…this meant that I…"
  • When the incident happened. If you want to make a complaint, make sure you do it as soon as possible, and definitely not later than 12 months after the incident/situation you’re complaining about, so that it can be dealt with quickly and fairly. If you speak with somebody either in person or on the phone it’s a good idea to back it up in writing, either a letter or email, perhaps to the practice manager. 
  • What result you are hoping to get. For example, do you want an apology, a guarantee that something is going to change, advice, or to have your complaint investigated?

“Keep a record of all the times you felt you didn’t get the right care from your GP, and keep copies of any letters or emails and a note of any calls,” - Caroline McGhie who has asthma. 

 NHS complaints processes

Wherever you live in the UK there are similar processes outlined by the NHS for making a complaint or giving feedback on NHS services:

  1. Talk to staff, whether it’s with the GP, the practice manager, or staff on reception. Sometimes a conversation is all that’s needed to sort things out.
  2. Fill in a feedback form which you can find either in reception or on your GP practice’s website. Find out how your particular GP surgery collects feedback and complaints. Ask if there’s a member of staff in charge of complaints.
  3. Check your GP surgery’s website on how to make a complaint – most GP practices share similar processes because they are based on official NHS guidelines.
  4. Another option is to feed back anonymously through a quick form called the Friends and Family Test, although you won’t get a personal response. The form should be available on your GP’s website, or ask at reception.

There are also other services that can help you through the process of making a complaint about your treatment, whether it was at a GP practice or in hospital, such as Healthwatch, local health councils, and patient advice groups. 

Getting a response

The NHS has a legal duty to deal with any complaints efficiently, treat your concerns with respect and get back to you as quickly as possible.

Once you’ve officially made your complaint you can expect an acknowledgement within three days telling you how long the NHS expects it will take to investigate.

When they’ve looked into it you’ll get a response outlining their findings and any actions that will be taken or changes made as a result. You’ll also be told if no further action will be taken, and why.

Read your response carefully to make sure you’re happy with it, that it answers all your questions, and that the follow-up actions are clear.

If you’re not happy with the result…

You can decide to take things further. All four nations have an Ombudsman to deal with unresolved complaints. Find out about complaints procedures in your area and how to take things further.

Call the Asthma UK Helpline

You can call the Helpline on 0300 222 5800 to speak to one of our friendly expert asthma nurses (Mon - Fri; 9am - 5pm). They can give you advice about the care you need for your asthma, and how you can make sure you get it. For example, they could suggest a list of questions to ask your GP to help you open up a conversation and address your concerns.

Last updated September 2016

Next review due September 2019