Because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the NHS has paused the investigation of some new and existing complaints. This lets staff focus on patient care and allows complaints teams to provide vital support to the NHS.
All new complaints will continue to be logged and any complaints that raise concerns about patient safety will still be investigated immediately.
You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of NHS care, treatment or service, 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 laid out in legislation.
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.
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.
You'll find a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) 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, 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're 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's never too late to ask for help.
Your local council will be able to tell you who the advocacy provider is in your area.
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, 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 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.
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 like district nursing, for example.
Every CCG will have its own complaints procedure, which is often displayed on its website.
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'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 authority, 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 the local authority.
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 CCG.
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).
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'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.
But consent is not required if you're making a complaint in the name of:
- a deceased person
- someone who lacks the capacity to make their own decisions
- a non-Gillick competent child
If you'd like support, you can always contact your local NHS Complaints Advocacy service.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman website also has 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 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.
If you made a complaint but do not receive a response or decision for more than 6 months, you should be told the reason for the delay.
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.
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 guidance.
This is a document produced by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, and Healthwatch England.
It 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're not happy with the way your complaint has been dealt with locally, you can complain to the relevant ombudsman.
If you have 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 0345 015 4033 or visit the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman website.
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 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 several 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.
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 have recently had a hip or knee replacement, varicose vein surgery or groin hernia surgery to give feedback on the care they received.
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. 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.
Feedback and complaints about the NHS website
If you wish to comment or give feedback about this website or make a complaint about our content or any operational issues, contact the Service Desk team.
If you wish to make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, check whether what you want is already published.
Stop fraud in the NHS
To stop NHS fraud, call 0800 028 4060.
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.
The NHS Counter Fraud Authority has national responsibility for tackling:
- criminal damage
Visit the NHS Counter Fraud Authority website to find out how to report suspected fraud.
Page last reviewed: 26 November 2018
Next review due: 26 November 2021