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Posted on 24th April 2017

How to Make a Complaint against the NHS

Every NHS service is required to have a formal complaints procedure that patients can access. You can ask the service you have used for a copy of their complaints procedure. This will explain what you need to do. Or you can contact the NHS Complaints Advocacy who can guide you through the process.

Where can I find an NHS complaints advocate?

You can call the NHS Complaints Advocacy on 0300 330 5454 or email them on

What can you complain about?

You can complain about anything that you think hasn't been satisfactory. According to the Citizens' Advice Bureau these are some of the most common things people complain about:

  • An incorrect diagnosis
  • Incorrect treatment
  • A delay in diagnosis
  • Waiting a long time for treatment
  • An operation cancellation
  • The standard of cleanliness in the hospital
  • Consent issues

Getting advice on your complaint:

Most hospitals have a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) which you can contact. A member of the PALS team will be able to give you advice on making a complaint, including informal complaints. Often, if you have an issue that you'd like to be fixed whilst still in hospital, an informal complaint is the best route to follow. The PALS team can help advise you in these situations, so you can get a quick resolution and figure out whether you need to escalate a complaint to a formal status. If you do choose to make a formal complaint the independent NHS Complaints Advocacy service can help you.

Who do you complain to?

You will either complain to:

  • The NHS service provider
  • The commissioner of the services

List of NHS service provider types:

An NHS service provider is the organisation, or people, directly providing your service. For example:

  • A hospital
  • A dentist surgery
  • A GP
  • NHS walk-in centre

What is a commissioner of the services?

The commissioner of the services will be a clinical commissioning group (CCG) normally local to your area that decides who will provide the services to the NHS. They tend to be called things like NHS Ealing CCG or NHS Doncaster CCG. You don't need to know too much about CCG's in order to make a complaint.

Which one should you complain to?

Normally complaining direct to the service provider should be sufficient. Any member of staff in the hospital or GP practice should be able to direct you towards the specific procedure they use, so you will know who you should be sending your complaint to.

There might be reasons that make you feel uncomfortable about talking direct to the service provider, perhaps you don't trust that they will deal with the complaint properly or you feel the complaint is so serious it should be dealt with at a higher level.

In this case you need to complain to the commissioner of the services. You should contact the relevant NHS hospital trust or the clinical commissioning group (CCG) in your area.

How long do you have to make a complaint?

You should make the complaint as soon as possible. The ultimate time limit is within 12 months of when the event happened, or within 12 months from the date you became aware of the incident or the negative effects it's had on you.

The Process Step-by-Step:

You can complain by:

  • Email
  • In person
  • In writing via a letter

It's recommended to make your complaint by writing and you can get help composing your letter from the following organisations:

Write your complaints letter

Tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you have a valid reason to complain (make use of PALS and the complaints advocacy to establish this).
  • Make sure the letter is to the point and as short as possible.
  • Clearly list the things you are complaining about. Maybe use bullet points.
  • Write in an unemotional way - avoid personal attacks instead complain about specific behaviour or events.
  • Clearly state the outcome you would like. This can be a simple apology.

Your letter should start by clearly stating you are making an official complaint:

You should then describe in as much detail as possible what happened. You should include:

  • Exact dates
  • Exact times, if possible
  • The names of the individual care providers you saw, if you know them

Next, you should describe the effects that it had on you. This can include the distress, or inconvenience the incident has caused. Include both the emotional effects and any financial effects, for example time off work or re-arranging childcare.

Then detail exactly what outcome you want from the complaint even if it's just an apology. It's best to be explicit about the corrective action you would like the NHS to take, for example, giving you a new appointment at the next possible opportunity.

If you have any evidence to back up your complaint you should attach this with your letter, though this won't always be possible.

At the end of your letter, reiterate that you expect a response within the time limits indicated in the complaints procedure.


All snippets taken from the template letter provided by Citizen's Advice Bureau


You should include your name, date of birth and NHS number (if known) somewhere on the letter as well.

  • You should get an acknowledgement of your complaint within 3 working days.
  • It's likely that you will be offered a meeting to resolve your complaint. If it is resolved this is known as a local resolution.
  • If your complaint isn't resolved you can escalate it.

How do I escalate my complaint?

If the NHS has not dealt with your complaint sufficiently you can ask for an independent review by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), however, it's not guaranteed they will undertake a review.

The PHSO must be convinced that everything has been done at a local stage to resolve the issue. They might not be able to look at your complaint if:

  • You are already taking legal action
  • You're planning to take legal action

You can complain using the online form created by the ombudsman - they supply tips on how to put together your statement.

Can I complain on behalf of a loved one?

Yes, you can complain on someone else's behalf as long as there is sufficient reason why they can't complain themselves. For example, if they are minor, are too ill to complain, are incapacitated in some way or have passed away.

Is there a different procedure if someone has died?

The complaints procedure is the same when someone has died, though it might lead to a coroner's inquiry if there wasn't one in place before. In this instance it's vital you contact the coroner as soon as possible so they can begin to undertake investigations.

You can find the contact details for the relevant coroner by email or phoning 020 3334 3555 (ask to speak to the Coroners, Burials, Cremation and Inquiries team).

It is recommended that you get advice from CAB, PALS or the NHS Complaints Advocacy if you are complaining on the behalf of someone who has passed away.

Further Information