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NHS complaints

Which organisations are covered by the NHS complaints procedure?

  • All NHS hospitals
  • GPs
  • NHS dentists
  • Pharmacists
  • NHS optometrists
  • Walk-in centres
  • Mental health services
  • All community health services provided by the NHS (which will be provided by your local clinical commissioning group, area team or local authority)

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Which organisations are covered by the NHS complaints procedure?

  • All NHS hospitals
  • GPs
  • NHS dentists
  • Pharmacists
  • NHS optometrists
  • Walk-in centres
  • Mental health services
  • All community health services provided by the NHS (which will be provided by your local clinical commissioning group, area team or local authority)

Who should I complain to?

This depends upon whether you wish to make an informal or a formal complaint.


This may be appropriate if you are simply dissatisfied about procedures within an NHS organisation (i.e. waiting times), wish to have something in particular put right, just want to voice a concern or if you are unhappy with a particular medical professionals’ advice or assistance.

If you wish to register a complaint informally, then the first step would be to either speak to the medical professional concerned or to their manager.

If you feel uncomfortable speaking to the people concerned directly and your complaint involves an incident in hospital, then you can contact the patient advice and liaison service (which exists within most NHS Hospitals) and they can contact the people involved, attempt to resolve your concerns for you and feedback the response.

If your concern relates to treatment in another NHS organisation (i.e. GP, NHS dentist etc.) you could check whether they have a complaints department (by looking at their website or speaking with a member of staff) and then speak to them about your complaint.

TIP - Make a note of the name of the person that you have complained to, the date that you made the complaint and their response. This information can then be used, if necessary, in any formal letter of complaint.


If you wish to make a formal complaint, you should use the NHS complaint procedure. You can find out about this procedure at most GP surgeries, dentists, hospitals etc. as there are usually leaflets available (normally at their reception desks) telling you how you can make a complaint.

In the first instance you should send your complaint to the chief executive of the hospital where you have received the treatment you wish to complain about.

If you are complaining about treatment that you have received at your GP surgery, NHS dentist or other NHS organisation, you should send your complaint to the complaints department or complaints manager (again if you are unsure who to send your complaint to then look at the website or ask a member of staff).

You can make your complaint:

Verbally - You can speak to the patient advice and liaison service (at hospital), complaints department or to the complaints manager by telephone. They must then make a written record of the details of your complaint and send this to you for your approval.

In writing or by email - This is the best way to ensure that the full details of your complaint are recorded and therefore can be fully considered. You should address your complaint letter or email to the complaints manager, complaints department or chief executive.

TIP - See our template of a written complaint letter. However, it is important to include:

  • Full details of all of your relevant medical treatment and any steps that you have already taken in relation to raising your complaint
  • Full details of your concerns and why you are dissatisfied with your treatment
  • What you want to achieve by making the complaint, i.e. an apology or answers to your queries

TIP - Keep a copy of your complaint letter and copies of any responses you receive.

TIP - If the response to your complaint is difficult to understand (i.e. it contains medical terms), contact the person who has supplied the response and ask for clarification.

What happens next with my complaint letter?

The person who has received your complaint should acknowledge receipt of it within 3 working days and provide you with information as to how it will be investigated and when you should receive a response.

There is no formal time limit for the response. The guidelines for the NHS suggest that a response to a complaint should be prepared within 25 working days, but this is not always possible. You should be kept updated regarding the progress of the investigation and you should be informed of any delays and given a date of when you should expect to receive the response.

You may be invited to attend a meeting so that the issues raised within your complaint can be discussed. The people in attendance at the meeting would usually be your treating doctor, any other relevant medical professional required to fully address your concerns and a member of staff from the complaints department.

You may find it helpful to have a discussion about your complaint, as you can then ask the doctors to clarify medical terms and ask any further questions that arise during the meeting. You are also still entitled to receive a full written response to your complaint at the conclusion of the meeting.

You are not obliged to attend a meeting. If you do not wish to attend a meeting, then you can still ask for a full written response to your complaint.

TIP - Ask the person who contacts you to arrange the meeting who will be attending.

TIP - Make a checklist of concerns before the meeting to remind you of the issues that you want to discuss and take these with you.

TIP - Consider taking a friend or relative with you so that they can offer you support or take notes during the meeting.

TIP - Ask the complaint manager for minutes to be taken at the meeting and for a written copy of these minutes to be sent to you.

Response from the NHS

The response to your complaint should contain an explanation of your treatment and address your concerns. If appropriate, they may also offer you an apology for what has happened and may also explain whether any action has been taken as a result of your complaint.

The NHS will not usually offer financial compensation or our inform you of any staff disciplinary actions.

You should consider the response carefully. If you have any further questions or concerns, then we would encourage you to raise these either verbally with the person who has answered your complaint or in another letter.

Independent Review by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

If you are still not satisfied with the response that you have received from the NHS organisation (or if they have failed to provide you with a response within a reasonable amount of time, usually 6 months), then you have a right to request an Independent Review from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

You should write to the ombudsman within 12 months of the relevant medical treatment or within 12 months of when you first became aware that something may have gone wrong.

You should set out in your letter to them the details of your medical treatment, where you had your medical treatment, your concerns, what action you have taken so far, why you believe the NHS organisation has not satisfactorily dealt with your concerns and why you feel an independent review is necessary (i.e. you may feel as though your concerns have not been investigated properly or have not been taken seriously or you may feel that further action should be taken in response to your complaint).

The ombudsman should acknowledge receipt of your letter within 2 working days and give you a reference for your case.

The ombudsman will then investigate your concerns and if your complaint is found to be justified they will seek a remedy for you, which can include an apology or, in some circumstances, financial compensation.

The ombudsman will keep you updated regarding the progress of your complaint and you will receive a final decision from them as soon as possible.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint and wish to seek legal advice, then call our specialist clinical negligence solicitors on 01616 966 229 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of the team will contact you directly.

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