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How do I complain about bad healthcare treatment in France?

Learn about the various avenues available for making an official complaint for treatment at a French hospital

A female patient in a hospital bed crossing her arms in anger

There are several possible avenues if you are unhappy with treatment in hospital Pic: gappic / Shutterstock

Reader question: Is it possible to make an official complaint about the treatment I have received in a French hospital?

If you feel you have been the victim of maltreatment at a hospital there are several possible avenues.

This is a serious accusation, however, and needs to be founded on real harm that you suffered, and not just, for example, because you did not like your doctor.

However complaints can notably be lodged against medical professionals if you believe the treatment you received damaged your health.

Complaints can be made against an individual doctor (or other professional) or against the hospital itself.

If your complaint is about your healthcare reimbursements then you should file a complaint with Assurance Maladie. 

To do this, you send a letter to your local caisse primaire d’assurance maladie (Cpam) detailing the case (Cpams also have a conciliateur mediation service if you are dissatisfied with the response).

Sources of advice

There are several avenues for action against a doctor or hospital and it would be advisable to obtain advice as to the most appropriate in your case. 

Free legal advice is provided by the state at a point-justice – France’s legal information centres, which are usually mairies or courts around the country. You can find one online or by using the ‘Justice app’.

They will only provide you with basic information, however, and for more serious cases (such as appearing in front of a judge), you will probably need expert legal advice.

To do this, you can search for avocats (lawyers) with expertise in medical issues nearby to you, although it is highly unlikely you will be able to access this help without charge.

Another avenue for free or inexpensive help is to seek assistance from an association d’aide aux victimes (victims’ help association). 

There are several of these, the Aviam France network of associations, for example, is part of the respected France Assos Santé collective of health users’ associations. 

If approaching a different one, we suggest checking its credentials on its site (eg. under mentions légales or sections such as ‘Qui sommes nous?’) – for example, is the body a registered French association? 

You can also consult lists at this link to find bodies, including Aviam, that have an accreditation from the French health ministry. 

Complaints to the doctors’ professional order

One avenue if you consider that you are the victim of malpractice by a doctor is a complaint to the doctor’s professional body. It cannot offer you compensation, but can make disciplinary rulings such as a formal warning, a temporary suspension or even striking the doctor off. 

Letters should be addressed to the conseil départemental de l’ordre des médecins (CDOM) via a lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception (registered post).

The doctor’s CDOM will be the department where he or she practises (or if they practise in multiple departments, the department where the incident happened). You will be able to find the address for the CDOM online.

The letter should include:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • The date of the incident 
  • The date you are lodging the complaint
  • A description of the malpractice

Complaints of this type should relate to medical negligence or malpractice (faute médicale), for example:

  • Technical malpractice during a procedure, which goes against normal medical practices and causes harm due to a mistake
  • Violation of a doctor’s ethical healthcare duty (the Hippocratic oath)
  • Failing to gain a patient’s consent before undertaking medical action

The CDOM has one month to organise a conciliation meeting between you and the doctor – if this is unsuccessful, the case is passed onto a disciplinary chamber. This must be done within three months of the complaint being submitted. 

The disciplinary chamber has up to six months to look into the case and may call an internal investigation into the matter.

You will then be called to attend a hearing in front of judges, who will take a decision in the following days. 

Similar complaints to professional bodies can also be made in the case of malpractice by other medical professionals (nurses, dentists etc).

Other options for complaints against a doctor

If you want compensation for something that went wrong during medical treatment, you can take legal action in the civil courts to claim damages or, in very serious cases, go to the police or write to the procureur de la République (public prosecutor) to ask for a criminal investigation.

Otherwise, there is an out-of-court procedure via a commission de conciliation et d’indemnisation des accidents médicaux (CCI).

CCIs operate at regional level and you can find the one for the area where the hospital is located at this link.

A CCI can investigate any so-called accident médical, which refers to an undesirable outcome from a medical treatment or procedure, whether caused by an identifiable fault on the doctor’s part or not. In the former case the doctor or their insurers should compensate you. In the latter there is a national fund that can offer compensation.

Filing a complaint against a hospital 

Filing a complaint against an institution (such as a hospital) can only be done in the case of a serious error on the premises.

Complaints are lodged through the hospital itself, via a committee responsible for checking on internal patient affairs called the Commission des usagers).

This holds quarterly meetings to look into complaints and potentially propose amicable solutions or advise on further avenues of appeal. 

If you wish to take your case further, you will have to take the hospital to court and will need a lawyer.

Evaluate the hospital

Even if you do not choose to pursue any of the avenues above, note that people who have received treatment in a hospital or clinic are asked by email by health quality watchdog the Haute Autorité de Santé  to evaluate their stay so as to feed into information on the institution provided at its Qualiscope website

So, this is another way to express dissatisfaction, though there will be no other direct consequences from leaving a ‘bad review’ in this way.

Finally, it is also possible to write to the relevant regional health body Agence régionale de la santé, to draw attention to the problem you experienced.

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