You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of NHS care, treatment or services, and this is firmly written into the NHS Constitution.
The information on this page will guide you through the NHS complaints arrangements, as well as the core requirements for NHS complaints handling that are laid out in legislation.
The NHS encourages feedback because it is used to improve services. If you wish to share your views and experiences, positive or negative, simply speak to a member of staff.
Many service providers have feedback forms available on their premises or websites. Sometimes the NHS will ask for your feedback. For more details, see the Other ways to feed back section, below.
If you are unhappy with an NHS service, it is often worthwhile discussing your concerns early on with the provider of the service, as they may be able to sort the issue out quickly. Most problems can be dealt with at this stage, but in some cases you may feel more comfortable speaking to someone not directly involved in your care.
Considering a complaint but need help?
Many issues can be resolved quickly by speaking directly to the staff at the place where you received care or accessed a service.
Some people find it helpful to talk to someone who understands the complaints process first and get some guidance and support. You will find a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in most hospitals.
You can speak with a PALS member, who will try to help you resolve issues informally with the hospital before you need to make a complaint. PALS can be particularly helpful if your issue is urgent and you need action immediately, such as a problem you have with the treatment or care you receive while in hospital.
If you are making or thinking of making a complaint, someone from the independent NHS Complaints Advocacy service can help you. An advocate will also be able to attend meetings with you and review any information you are given during the complaints process.
You can seek advice from an NHS complaints advocate at any stage of the process. If you decide you need some support, it is never too late to ask for help.
Your local council will be able to tell you who the advocacy provider is in your area. Find details for your local council on the GOV.UK website.
Your local Healthwatch can also provide information about making a complaint.
Who do I make my complaint to?
Knowing who to complain to can seem confusing, especially if more than one organisation is involved. If you need help, you could get information from your local Healthwatch or from an NHS complaints advocate.
Complaining about NHS services
Everyone who provides an NHS service in England must have their own complaints procedure. You can often find information in waiting rooms, at reception, on the service provider's website, or by asking a member of staff.
You can either complain to the NHS service provider directly – such as a GP, a dentist surgery, or a hospital – or to the commissioner of the services, which is the body that pays for the NHS services you use. You cannot apply to both. See the information below on How to find the commissioner.
In the event of a complaint about more than one organisation – perhaps a complaint that includes issues about your GP, local hospital and ambulance service – you'll only need to make one complaint. The organisation that receives your complaint must then co-operate with the others to ensure you receive a co-ordinated response.
How do I find the commissioner?
Contact NHS England for complaints about primary care services (GPs, dentists, opticians or pharmacists). NHS England also commissions military health services and some other specialised services. To contact NHS England:
For more detailed information, visit NHS England's website.
Contact your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) for complaints about secondary care, such as hospital care, mental health services, out-of-hours services, NHS 111 and community services – district nursing, for example.
Every CCG will have its own complaints procedure, which is often displayed on its website. You can find contact details for CCGs on this site.
Contact your local authority if your complaint is about public health organisations, which provide services that prevent disease, promote health and prolong life.
Complaining about adult social care services
If you are unhappy with a social care service, a care home, or home care and you are paying for your own care, you may want to speak to the service provider first. But if you want to make a complaint, the organisations that provide these services will have their own complaints arrangements.
If your care is funded or arranged by your local authority, you may wish to raise the issues with the care provider in the first instance. However, if you would prefer not to do that, you can raise you concerns directly with the local authority.
Visit our care and support section for more guidance about social care.
Complaining about the use of the Mental Health Act
If you wish to make a complaint about a mental health service, you should either contact the service provider or the local clinical commissioning group (CCG).
However, if you wish to complain about the use of the Mental Health Act on someone detained in hospital or put on a guardianship or under a community treatment order, complain to the Care Quality Commission (CQC). You can find detailed guidance on the CQC website.
Making a complaint
Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of an incident or of the matter coming to your attention. This time limit can be extended provided you have good reasons for not making the complaint sooner and it is possible to complete a fair investigation.
This will be a decision taken by the complaints manager in discussion with you. If you are told your complaint cannot be looked at, you may want to contact the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman or the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).
You can make a complaint verbally, in writing, or by email. If you make your complaint verbally, a record of your complaint will be made and you will be provided with a written copy.
If you are complaining on behalf of someone else, include their written consent with your letter (if you are making your complaint in writing) as this will speed up the process.
However, consent is not required if you are making a complaint in the name of:
If you would like support, you can always contact your local NHS Complaints Advocacy service.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s Complain for change website also offers tips about making a complaint, including tailored advice for people with learning disabilities and resources for South Asian and Muslim women.
What to expect
You should expect an acknowledgement and the offer of a discussion about the handling of your complaint within three working days of receiving your complaint.
If you accept, the discussion will cover the period within which a response to your complaint is likely to be sent – there is no set timeframe and it will depend upon the nature of your complaint. If, in the end, the response is delayed for any reason, you should be kept informed.
If you have made a complaint but do not receive a response or a decision for more than six months, you should be told the reason for the delay. However, at this point you may also wish to contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman or the LGO.
Once your complaint has been investigated you will receive a written response. The response should set out the findings and, where appropriate, provide apologies and information about what is being done as a result of your complaint.
It should also include information about how the complaint has been handled and details of your right to take your complaint to the relevant ombudsman.
Find out what to do if you're not happy with the outcome in the section below.
What else can I expect when making a complaint?
The NHS and social care sectors are working hard to improve complaints handling and best practice. Many organisations have now adopted the principles laid out in the My expectations for raising concerns and complaints (PDF, 4.19Mb) guidance.
This is a document produced by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, LGO and Healthwatch England, which explains what good outcomes for patients and service users look like when complaints are handled well.
Not happy with the outcome?
If your problem persists or you are not happy with the way your complaint has been dealt with locally, you can complain to the relevant ombudsman:
- healthcare – you have the right to take your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, which is independent of the NHS. For more information, call 0345 015 4033 or visit the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s website.
- social care – you have the right to take your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), which is independent of local authorities and care providers. For more information, call 0300 061 0614 or visit the LGO website.
Other ways to feed back
Sometimes the NHS will ask for your feedback, as in the following examples.
The Friends and Family Test (FFT) is available for a number of NHS services, including hospitals, GP practices and mental health services. The FFT is an anonymous and quick way for you to provide feedback about the service provided to you.
Find out more about the FFT.
There are other more in-depth national survey programmes you might be invited to take part in to find out about your experience of the NHS. The Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) questionnaire is just one example. PROMs invites patients who've recently had a hip or knee replacement, varicose vein surgery, or groin hernia surgery to give feedback on the care they received.
Find out more about PROMs.
There are many websites, including this one, that invite you to comment, feed back, or even rate NHS services or facilities. On this website you can comment on health and social care services in England. Simply use the Services near you tool and select a service. You can either leave an overall star rating or post a review for other patients to see.