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Making a complaint

The NHS complaints procedure explained

If you're not happy with the care or treatment you've received or you've been refused treatment for a condition, you have the right to complain, have your complaint investigated, and be given a full and prompt reply.

The NHS Constitution explains your rights when it comes to making a complaint. You have the right to:

  • have your complaint dealt with efficiently, and be properly investigated
  • know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint
  • take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if you're not satisfied with the way the NHS has dealt with your complaint
  • make a claim for judicial review if you think you've been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body
  • receive compensation if you've been harmed 

Most issues can be resolved without you having to make a formal complaint. Try having an informal chat with your doctor or a member of staff first. A formal complaint takes time and minor issues are resolved quicker if you just speak to a person on site. For example, if you have problems booking a GP appointment speak to the practice manager about it. If you are worried about something during your hospital outpatient appointment talk to one of the nurses or the clinic manager.

NHS England calls this informal process 'local resolution' and urges everyone to see if things can be solved there and then before they escalate to a real problem.
However, if despite everything this doesn’t solve your problem, or even if it does but you would still like to make a formal complaint, you should follow the NHS complaints procedure as described below. 

The NHS complaints process

Stage one: Making a complaint

If you don't feel like you can solve issues informally then you  should make a formal complaint to your service provider such as your GP, dentist, hospital or pharmacist. If you cannot make a complaint yourself, then you can ask someone else to do it for you.

Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure. To find out about it, ask a member of staff, look on the hospital or trust's website, or contact the complaints department for more information.

See the section on Tips on how to make a complaint and find out what details should be included in your complaint.

However, if you feel too uncomfortable to complain to the service provider directly then you can make a complaint to the commissioner of the services instead. NHS services are commissioned, planned and paid for by either NHS England or Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

Note: if you have already complained to your service provider then the commissioner will not be able to reinvestigate the same concerns. In this case you should proceed to stage two of the complaints process.

NHS England is responsible for purchasing primary care services such as GPs, dentists, pharmacists, optical services and some specialised services, and you should contact them if you wish to complain about any of these services.

When you contact NHS England via email (england.contactus@nhs.net) ensure you state ‘For the attention of the complaints manager’ in the subject line.

You should provide as much information as possible to allow NHS England to investigate your complaint, such as:

  • your name and contact details
  • a clear description of your complaint and any relevant times and dates
  • details of any relevant healthcare providers or services
  • any relevant correspondence, if applicable

Contact your local CCG for secondary care including hospital treatments, emergency care and some community services, like district nursing.

When should I complain?

As soon as possible. Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of the date of the event that you're complaining about, or as soon as the matter first came to your attention.

The time limit can sometimes be extended (so long as it's still possible to investigate the complaint). An extension might be possible, for instance in situations where it would have been difficult for you to complain earlier, for example, when you were grieving or undergoing trauma.

If you made your complaint to NHS England you will receive the findings of the investigation together with an appropriate apology and the changes or learning that have taken place as a result of the investigation.

Stage two: I am not happy with the outcome of my complaint

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

To make a complaint visit the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman website or call 0345 015 403

If you have problems with your hearing or speech then you can use a textphone (minicom) on 0300 061 4298. (Calls to these numbers cost the same as a call to a UK landline.) You can also call using Text Relay.

 Also find advice on how to prepare your complaint on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman website. For example, keep in mind to provide:

  • your name, address and telephone number
  • name and contact details of anyone helping you with the complaint
  • name and contact details of the healthcare provider you wish to complain about
  • the factual details of your complaint (listing the main events and when they happened)
  • why you think your previous complaint wasn’t resolved to your satisfaction, and how this has caused you injustice
  • details of the complaints you've already made to the healthcare provider and the outcome of their investigations
  • copies of any relevant documents (it's usually helpful to number these and provide a list)

Keep copies of everything you post, and make a note of when you send it.

Page last reviewed: 03/07/2014

Next review due: 03/07/2016

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