The National Health Service (NHS) Complaints Procedures

Complaining about NHS treatment or service

If you have a complaint about NHS treatment or an NHS service, you may want to consider making a formal complaint direct to the NHS before considering any legal action – even if it involves a potential clinical negligence claim.

There is an NHS complaints procedure available for any patient who has a grievance about what they perceive to be an unprofessional service, poor treatment or maladministration with regard to NHS treatment. Examples of a poor service or treatment which may merit a complaint include:

  • incorrect or delayed diagnosis
  • incorrect treatment
  • a medical product has failed
  • lack of communication
  • discrimination
  • failure to provide appropriate pain relief, nutrition and or hydration
  • inordinate delays for treatment or consultations, including cancelled operations/procedures
  • poor hygiene or cleanliness at the hospital/clinic
  • poor standard of behaviour of NHS staff
  • wrong medication prescribed
  • issues relating to consent
  • issues relating to discharge from hospital
  • lack of follow up information following treatment/surgery
  • errors in medical records, or loss of medical records

If you believe you have ground to make a claim for clinical negligence (also known as medical negligence), read our article: Clinical Negligence in the National Health Service.

Before making a formal complaint

If you want to make a complaint, the NHS advises that you first attempt a ‘local resolution’. This means approaching the specific NHS service, whether it is your hospital, GP or dentist, and obtain a copy of their own complaints procedure. Every NHS service provider has its own complaint procedure which will explain what you need to do to raise a grievance with them. Alternatively, you can write or email them – or speak directly with them.

Achieving a favourable outcome, such as an apology or other form of redress, through local resolution is far more favourable and efficient for all the parties than going through the formal NHS complaints process. However, not all complaints can be resolved locally.

Alternatively, your local authority has a legal duty to arrange independent advocacy services to help individuals making, or thinking of making, a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. Contact our local authority about how this service can help you.

Making a complaint

If you decide to make a formal complaint through the NHS complaints procedure, do this as soon as you can. It is wise to have all the relevant documents, such as medical records and correspondence, and any diary entries so that your complaint is as detailed as possible.

Your complaint should be made to the relevant commissioning body. This may be your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) for hospital care, or NHS England for GP, dental, pharmacy and optical services. It must respond to your complaint within three working days.

Note that there are time limits in which you must make your complaint. Your complaint must be made within 12 months from the date the event happened, or 12 months from the date you first became aware of problems with your treatment.

Lodging a complaint with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

If the outcome of your complaint fails to satisfy you, you can lodge a complaint with the Health Service Ombudsman. You can, if you wish, complain to the Ombudsman instead of making a complaint to the commissioning body, but note that it considers only around 25% of complaints received.

The Ombudsman is independent of the Government and the NHS, and there is no cost in having a complaint dealt with. The Ombudsman is able to look into a wide variety of NHS service issues, maladministration, poor service and poor handling of a complaint. Complaints are usually dealt with within 20 days.

Care Quality Commission and other regulators

You can also raise your concerns by contacting the relevant regulatory body, such as the Care Quality Commission, the General Medical Council, General Dental Council, and The Nursing and Midwifery Council. If the outcome of your complaint is unsatisfactory, you can then complain to the Health Service Ombudsman (see above).