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Why and When the Complaint Letter Works

Posted in: Maria's Blog
Author: Maria Cecilia Tacchi


Recently I was faced with this problem: a lady was being seen by a consultant, and she had been told to come back in three months’ time.

But in the meantime, she felt worse, she could not wait the three months. And she also did not want to go to A&E and see a new doctor, she wanted her own doctor.

This was March, and when she phoned……they offered an appointment for JUNE.

On a recommendation she contacted me, and I suggested letting me first try the “nice way”, I went to the hospital where she was being treated, where they said that as I was NOT the patient, I could not make an enquiry into her appointments, BUT if I called this number, I could. Really?

This is because of a loophole in the law of protection of personal data…..to bear in mind.

So I tried calling appointments (citas), and after the 10th try, I could finally get through and they confirmed that yes, that was the waiting time.


Many people think the complaint letter is chucked into the bin, this is NOT true. Letters of complaint get stamped, registered into a system, and they are OBLIGED to respond before a certain period of time, (this varies per hospitals, healthcare centre etc.).

This was a Friday. I sent a complaint letter, describing the clinical state of my client, that the consultant had set out a repeat appointment every three months, but that she was feeling very deteriorated, and even the appointment they were offering me would take her over the 3 months limit , this would mean that she would have to go to the A&E with the subsequent increase in healthcare expenditure for the hospital and worse care for her as she would be seeing a doctor that does NOT know her, for a complex disease.

Also, I put that my patients was making the hospital completely responsible for any harm that could come to her because of the delay.


On Monday they received a call from the hospital offering an appointment for two weeks’ time, afterwards, a letter of apology arrived in the mail……..

Magic? No! Complaint letters work.

I also wrote her a letter to take to the consultant saying that the complaint letter had only been about the non-compliance of the doctor´s orders about timing of appointment, and it had nothing to do with the care she was receiving from the department, for which she was very grateful.

Bottom line, complaint letters, when written correctly, with knowledge of medicine and for specific things, work (they will not work if for example you write: “I want the attitude of all the Doctors in x department to change because it’s awful”, that might be true, but too broad, it’s just a fight that is too big for one person).


  • Be specific
  • State your goals clearly and succinctly; three pages just won’t do
  • State the consequences of not meeting your demands (specific medical consequences that can come from what you are complaining about, for example, I had a patient that had been waiting for a sleep study because the probable diagnosis was sleep apnea. This is linked to higher car fatalities, so I quoted the study… and inject a little fear in their hearts. Suppose they don’t do the procedure and the lady has a car accident? and it’s all in writing?
  • If it’s about a surgery waiting time, there are surgeries & procedures that have a maximum waiting time. Check here to see if your surgery or procedure is in the list (in fact, in case of surgeries, in the bottom part of the paper that confirms you are entered into the waiting list there is a line that will say “sujeto a decreto de espera quirurgico”. If this or a similar line is there, you know that you can check the time  here and see what is the maximum time you may be waiting.

In my experience, presenting the letter one time is enough, but if you don’t hear from them for a week, go next week and present it again, and insert in the letter that if you don’t receive an answer in say 10 days, you will present a denuncia to the Ministry of Health, the Colegio Medico (as this usually happens because of lack of personnel, the Colegio of course hates this) as well as contacting your attorney (remember that you can get an attorney at your local colegio de abogados for free (his fees, you still have to pay something,  related to the procedure, but it NEVER gets that far).

Remember, the better this letter is written, the effectiveness will rise, if you insert normativism (legally valid arguments), laws and/or regulations, they say, hey, why does she know so much? Who does she know?….  we´d better answer her letter quickly!

I have had a very high success rate with the PUBLIC system, the private is another story, the success rate has been, for me, worse. it should be different shouldn’t it? Well, in my experience, it’s not.

Please note: The information provided is based upon our understanding of current legislation. It is not legal advice but is provided freely to enable you to be properly informed. We recommend that if you are considering taking action, you should seek professional advice.

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