How to make a complaint to the NHS?

Patients have the right to complain; to have their complaint investigated; and to receive a full and prompt response to their complaint, if they are not happy with the care or treatment they have received.

Patients have a right to know the outcome of the investigation into their complaint, and if they are not satisfied with the way the NHS has dealt with the complaint to take their complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Patients also have a right to make a claim for Judicial Review if it is believed they have been affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body. Judicial Review would usually be the route of legal complaint if treatment has been refused for a particular condition, for funding or other reasons. The complaint procedure also entitles patients to be financially compensated if they have been harmed, although in our experience this is a much less common outcome of the complaint procedure than a formal written response following a meeting with the representatives of the relevant institution.

NHS England refer to the informal process of complaint as “local resolution”. Local resolution is designed to resolve minor issues quickly by speaking to the clinician, or institution concerned, directly.

Where you don’t feel you can resolve issues informally then you should make a formal complaint to the NHS heath care provider.

When complaining in writing you should provide as much information as possible to the institution concerned to enable them to investigate your complaint. You should provide your name and contact details, together with a clear description of your complaint and any relevant times and dates and details of any other relevant health care providers or services involved with your care. You should also provide copies of any relevant extant correspondence if appropriate.

You should complain as soon as possible. Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of the date of the event about which you are complaining or as soon as the matter first came to your attention. It is possible to extend the time for a complaint particularly in cases where the delay causes no practical impediment to the investigation of your complaint. Extensions are possible in situations where it would have been difficult to complain earlier, for example, because you were grieving or undergoing trauma or recovering from treatment.

Generally speaking you will receive an acknowledgement of your complaint and in due course a written response to it. Often healthcare institutions arrange meetings with the relevant clinicians to further discuss your complaint and if you are invited to such a meeting you should ask that the meeting be formally minuted and that you be provided with a copy of the minutes.

If you are unhappy with the outcome of your complaints you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is independent of the NHS and government. The address for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is:

Millbank Tower
London SW1P 4QP

Telephone 0345 015 4033

You can also talk to your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) if you wish to complain about hospital treatment. Most hospitals have a PALS office and they can give you advice about how to make your complaint. They may be able to help you organise a complaint to the hospital through the NHS Complaints Procedure. It is also possible, if you don’t wish to complain to the hospital directly, to complain to your local clinical commissioning group.

All GP surgeries should have a written complaints procedure and you should be able to find out about this by asking at your GP’s reception or on the practice website. If you wish to make a formal complaint about your GP care it may be best to speak to the Practice Manager or complain to the practice in writing or by email. If you feel uncomfortable about complaining to the Practice Manager directly then it is possible to complain to the Commissioner of the services provided to you. NHS England is the body responsible for purchasing primary care services such as GP care, dental care, optical care and care provided by pharmacists.