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How to complain to the NHS

You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of NHS care, treatment or service, and this is written into the NHS Constitution on GOV.UK.

The information on this page will guide you through the NHS complaints process, as well as the core requirements for NHS complaints handling.

The NHS encourages feedback because it's 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.

If you're unhappy with an NHS service, it's 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.

If you're considering making 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.

The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) is a free, confidential and independent service that you'll find in most hospitals.

You can speak with a PALS member, who'll 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 with the treatment or care you receive while in hospital.

If you're making, or thinking about making, a complaint, you could get help from an NHS complaints advocate.

An advocate can help you to write a complaint letter and attend meetings with you, but cannot make the complaint for you or give medical or legal advice.

You can get advice from an NHS complaints advocate at any stage of the process. If you decide you need some support, it's never too late to ask for help. Search online for 'NHS complaints advocacy' in your area.

Find out more about how to complain about NHS care on the VoiceAbility website

Healthwatch is an independent statutory body that helps make sure your feedback is listened to.

Find your local Healthwatch

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, dentist surgery or 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.

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 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.

Find out about complaining to NHS England

Contact your local integrated care board (ICB) for complaints about secondary care, such as hospital care, mental health services, out-of-hours services, NHS 111 and community services like district nursing.

Every ICB will have its own complaints procedure, which is often displayed on its website.

Find your local integrated care board (ICB)

Contact your local council if your complaint is about public health organisations, which provide services that prevent disease, promote health and prolong life.

Find your local council on GOV.UK

Complaining about adult social care services

If you're unhappy with a social care service, care home or home care and you're 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 council, you may wish to raise the issues with the care provider in the first instance.

If you'd prefer not to do that, you can raise your concerns directly with your local council.

Find your local council on GOV.UK

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 ICB.

But 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).

Find out how to complain about the use of the Mental Health Act on the CQC website

Making a complaint

Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of an incident or of it coming to your attention.

This time limit can be extended provided you have good reasons for not making the complaint sooner and it's possible to complete a fair investigation.

This will be a decision taken by the complaints manager in discussion with you.

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'll be provided with a written copy.

If you're complaining on behalf of someone else, include their written consent with your letter (if you're making your complaint in writing) as this will speed up the process.

If the person cannot give their consent, for example, if they have died or lack mental capacity, or are a child who cannot complain for themselves, you may be able to complain for them.

If you need advice or would like support, find out more about NHS complaints advocacy on the VoiceAbility website.

What to expect

You should expect an acknowledgement and the offer of a discussion about the handling of your complaint within 3 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's no set timeframe, and this will depend on the nature of your complaint.

If, in the end, the response is delayed for any reason, you should be kept informed.

Once your complaint has been investigated, you'll receive a written response.

The response should set out the findings and, where appropriate, provide apologies and information about what's 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.

If you're not happy with the outcome

If your problem persists or you're not happy with the way your complaint has been dealt with locally, you can complain to the relevant ombudsman.

Healthcare

If you've reached the end of the complaints process and are not happy with the organisation's final decision, you have the right to bring your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look at.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on unresolved complaints about the NHS in England. This organisation is independent of the NHS.

For more information, call their helpline on 0345 015 4033 or visit the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman 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 their helpline on 0300 061 0614 or visit the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman website.

Other ways to give feedback

Sometimes the NHS will ask for your feedback.

The Friends and Family Test (FFT) is available for NHS services, including hospitals, GP practices and mental health services.

The FFT is an anonymous and quick way for you to provide feedback to an NHS service 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 invites patients who have recently had a hip or knee replacement to give feedback on the care they received.

Find out more about PROMs on NHS England's website

There are many websites, including this one, that invite you to comment, give feedback, or even rate NHS services or facilities.

You can comment on health and social care services in England on the NHS website.

Find services near you and select a service

You can either leave an overall star rating or post a review for other patients to see.

If you wish to comment or give feedback about this website or make a complaint about our content or any operational issues, visit the Contact the NHS page and select an option.

If you wish to make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, check whether what you want is already published.

Find out how to make a freedom of information (FOI) request

If you're aware of, or concerned about, fraud being committed by individuals or organisations within the NHS, you can report this securely and confidentially to the NHS Counter Fraud Authority. You can also report fraud anonymously.

The NHS Counter Fraud Authority has national responsibility for tackling:

  • fraud
  • bribery
  • corruption
  • criminal damage
  • theft

To stop NHS fraud, call 0800 028 4060 or report NHS fraud on the NHS Counter Fraud Authority website.

Page last reviewed: 7 November 2022
Next review due: 7 November 2025