Every person has the right to expect quality care when it comes to the medical treatment or hospital care they receive in the UK. If you are unhappy with the service or care you have received, or feel you have been treated unfairly, you can make a complaint.
- Which organisations are covered by the NHS complaints procedure?
- Who do you complain to about NHS hospital care?
- How to make a complaint about a NHS hospital
- How to write a letter of complaint to an NHS hospital
- How do I complain about another NHS service, such as a GP or dentist?
- What happens to my complaint?
- What to do if you are not satisfied with the response to your complaint
- Time restrictions to lodge a complaint with the NHS
There are many reasons to challenge substandard medical care.
Many people complain because they want lessons learned from their experience, so that no one else has to go through what they did.
Another reason to complain is if you wish to make a medical negligence claim. If you have experienced clinical negligence, you will need to make an official complaint before you can begin a claim for compensation.
Everyone who provides an NHS service in England and Wales must have an official complaints procedure.
- All NHS hospitals
- NHS dentists
- NHS optometrists
- Walk-in centres
- Mental health services
- All community health services provided by the NHS.
This depends on whether you are making a formal or informal complaint.
Making an informal complaint
This may be appropriate if you have a particular concern, wish to have something put right within an NHS hospital, or are dissatisfied with advice or assistance from a particular medical professional.
To register a complaint informally, your first step would be to speak to either the medical professional or their manager.
If you don't feel comfortable speaking to the medical professional directly, you can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), which is found in most NHS hospitals. They will then contact the people involved and attempt to resolve your concerns.
Making a formal complaint
You should use the hospital’s official complaint procedure if you wish to make a formal complaint.
The Patient Advice and Liaison Service can advise you on who you need to address your complaint to, and provide you with the contact details you need.
In England, you may need to address your complaint to the hospital’s complaints department, or to the hospital’s chief executive, depending on the advice you receive from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service.
In Wales, you usually address hospital complaints to the health board’s complaints department. The complaints process in Wales is known as ‘putting things right’.
The best way to make a formal complaint against hospital care is by writing a letter or email. It ensures that the full details of your complaint are recorded and can therefore be fully considered.
You can complain about the treatment you received yourself, or you can speak on behalf of others in certain circumstances. This includes complaints on behalf of children, a deceased person, or someone who does not have the capacity to do so themselves. You can also complain on behalf of someone who has given you their permission to do so.
When writing a letter of complaint to a hospital, there are some important things to include:
- Details of all the relevant medical treatment received
- Any steps you have already taken to raise your complaint
- Full details of your concerns and why you are unhappy with your treatment
- What you would like to achieve by lodging a complaint – for example, you may be looking for an apology, answers to your queries, or procedural change.
Make sure that you keep a copy of your complaint letter and copies of any responses you receive.
The process to complain about services received from a primary care provider or independent provider - such as your GP or dentist – is similar to making a hospital complaint, as they must also follow the NHS complaints procedure.
As with NHS hospitals, if you want to make a complaint informally, you can speak to the medical professional(s) or their manager.
You should use the NHS complaints procedure if you wish to make a formal complaint. You can find out about this process at most GP surgeries and dentists, as they usually have leaflets at reception desks which explain how to make a complaint.
Usually, the organisation will have a complaints department or complaints manager that you can address your complaint to. You may also be able to address your complaint to the service commissioner.
If you make a formal complaint, you should receive an acknowledgement of receipt within three working days. The NHS should also offer you the opportunity to discuss your case. In a discussion like this, the NHS will ask you about what you hope to achieve and how your concerns can be addressed.
In addition, they should establish an expected timescale for resolving the issue. If the timeframe has to be extended, you should be notified before the initial deadline expires.
You can request an independent review from the ombudsman if you're still not satisfied with the response you received from the NHS organisation (or if they haven't responded within a reasonable period of time, usually six months).
In England, you’ll need to contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, while in Wales you should contact the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.
A complaint should be made to the ombudsman within 12 months of the relevant medical treatment or within 12 months of first becoming aware of a problem.
In your correspondence with the ombudsman you should give details about:
- Your medical treatment
- Where you had your medical treatment
- What action you have taken so far
- Why you believe the NHS organisation has not satisfactorily handled your concerns
- Why you feel an independent review is needed - for instance, you may feel that your concerns have not been properly investigated or taken seriously, or that further action should be taken in response to your complaint.
You should hear back from the ombudsman within two working days with a reference for your case.
Once the ombudsman has investigated your concerns, they will suggest a remedy, which can include an apology or, in some cases, financial compensation.
They will keep you informed on the progress of your complaint and notify you of their final decision as soon as possible.
You have 12 months to send a letter of complaint to the NHS – from the date of the incident or the date you discovered what happened.
In some cases, you are still able to lodge a complaint with the NHS after this deadline if you have a good reason and if the NHS is still able to investigate the matter.
Complaints regarding the care and treatment provided in private hospitals and health clinics should be addressed directly to the organisation that runs it.
Private healthcare providers are not bound by the NHS complaints procedure. They will, however, have a process for handling negative feedback and complaints about medical treatment.
Should you not be able to resolve your concerns informally with management, you should ask for a copy of their complaints policy. Complaints procedures differ between organisations, but are usually similar to those set by the NHS.
Our guidance for writing a letter of complaint to the NHS is also applicable to drafting a complaint about treatment provided by a private healthcare provider.
If your healthcare was provided by a private hospital or clinic but funded by the NHS, you can still complain to the hospital that treated you.
You can also complain to the local Clinical Commissioning Group, which pays the hospital to provide your care.
If you're not satisfied with the private hospital's response to your complaint you can contact the Care Quality Commission and ask them to investigate.
If the hospital is a member of the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations (AIHO) you could also complain to them about the treatment you have received.
If you have suffered an illness or injury due to negligent medical treatment, you can make a claim for compensation.