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Complaining about NHS services

You have the right to expect good quality services from the NHS. If you’re unhappy with the service or care you receive, or feel you have been treated unfairly, you can make a complaint.

What can I complain about?

You can make a complaint about any aspect of NHS care, treatment or services. This includes GP, hospital, pharmacy, ambulance or community health services.

Your concerns or complaint could be about:

  • a specific consultation or treatment
  • your general care
  • attitude of staff
  • difficulty making appointments or late running appointments
  • poor or inadequate communication about your care
  • the amount of time or route taken to reach a diagnosis.

How do I make a complaint about a health service?

You can either complain yourself, or someone else can make a complaint on your behalf if you don’t want to or aren’t able to. 

Follow these steps to make a complaint:

Step 1: Make an informal complaint

Try to raise the problems with the staff involved or the manager of the team to see if they can help. They may be able to solve the problem quickly before it gets any worse. You can make a complaint in person or by phone, letter or email and they should acknowledge your complaint within 3 days.

Step 2: Make a formal complaint

If you’ve raised an informal complaint and feel it hasn’t properly been solved, or if your problem is quite serious, then you can make a formal complaint.

You can complain directly to the person or organisation concerned. All NHS organisations must have a complaints procedure explaining who to contact, how they investigate and respond to a complaint, and what further action you can take if you remain dissatisfied. They should also tell you how to access an NHS complaints advocacy service.

If you don’t feel comfortable complaining to a staff member or NHS organisation providing the service, you can complain to the NHS organisation that arranges services for local residents. This is either NHS England or your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) depending on the service you’re complaining about.

Contact NHS England

Contact NHS England to make a formal complaint about your GP or practice staff, dentist, optometrist, pharmacist.

Contact your Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)

Contact your CCG to make a formal complaint about out of hours services, ambulance services, NHS hospital services or NHS services delivered by private hospital, treatment centres and hospices. You can also contact them about community services such as continence services, speech and language therapy, mental health services or wheelchair services.

Step 3: Your complaint will be investigated

During this process, you should be kept informed of progress and have the chance to talk about the complaint.At the end of the formal investigation, you should receive a written response telling you the result of your complaint and the reasons for it. You should also be told which actions will be taken as a result of the investigation.

Step 4: Follow up if you’re unhappy

If you’re not happy with the way that all or part of your complaint has been dealt with, or its conclusions, ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) to look into it.The PHSO will investigate your complaint further if they agree it hasn’t been dealt with properly. You should approach the PHSO within one year of the incident taking place.

If you are making a complaint about private healthcare the process is different. Contact the provider of the service and give them the opportunity to investigate your concerns and respond to you. If you are not happy with their response, contact the Independent Healthcare Sector Adjudication Services.

When can I make a complaint?

You should make a complaint as soon as you can, and ideally within 12 months of the event or problem. A complaint made too long after that may mean the complaints manager believes it’s not possible to carry out a comprehensive investigation. 

What should I include in my complaint?

You may be making the complaint in stressful or emotional circumstances. Keep your tone of voice or written correspondence polite and professional. You should include:

  • who was affected? Their name, date of birth and address
  • what happened or went wrong? Be as specific as you can and try not to make generalisations
  • when and where did it happen?
  • who was involved on the staff side?
  • why were you unhappy?

Decide what you would like to happen as a result of your complaint and send supporting documentary evidence and list it in your email or letter.

Once you’ve made your complaint, keep a record of names, contact details and job titles of anyone you speak to, dates of conversations, what was said, decisions made and deadlines agreed. Keep all emails and correspondence and ask for written confirmation of verbal promises.

Where can I get support?

If you’re worried about making a complaint, there is support available to help you:

  • Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) help to solve problems related to hospital care. If they can’t help, they can explain the complaints procedure and put you in touch with the complaints manager and NHS Complaints Advocacy Service.
  • NHS Complaints Advocacy Service. An NHS complaints advocate can listen to your concerns and may be able to help you write letters, explain any responses you receive and help you prepare for meetings. Every local authority must make this service available.
  • A local Healthwatch can provide information, advice and support about local health and social care services. 

For more information call the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602.
We’re open 8am to 7pm, every day of the year.

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Last updated: Apr 20 2021

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