NHS Complaint Procedures
By Lauren Amphlett

The NHS values feedback, both positive and negative, as it contributes to service improvement. If you are unhappy about the care, treatment, or service you’ve experienced from the NHS or a GP, you are entitled to make your voice heard. Your feedback could instigate changes that benefit both you and others in the future, and there are many reasons why it is important:


Healthcare providers are responsible for delivering a high standard of care. When they fall short, they should be held accountable. Complaints can serve as a mechanism for this accountability.

Quality Improvement

Feedback is essential for any organisation that aims to improve. By pointing out what went wrong, you can help the NHS identify areas for improvement. This can lead to changes in procedures, training, and resource allocation, ultimately raising the quality of care for everyone.

Patient Safety

If you’ve experienced a lapse in the standard of care, others may have too. By bringing attention to the issue, you could be helping to prevent future mistakes that compromise patient safety.


Hospitals and GP practices benefit from being transparent about their successes and failures. Complaints can be a form of data that helps the public and the organisation understand how well it is performing.


Making a complaint can be empowering for patients and families. It gives you a voice and can help you feel like an active participant in your healthcare rather than a passive recipient.

Legal and Ethical Reasons

In some cases, complaints may lead to legal action or disciplinary measures against healthcare providers who have been negligent or have violated professional standards. 

Resource Allocation

Complaints can highlight areas where resources are lacking. This could lead to increased funding or other resources being allocated to address the issue.

Public Trust

Maintaining public trust is crucial for a publicly funded system like the NHS. Addressing complaints effectively is an integral part of maintaining this trust.

Understanding Your Rights

Before you proceed with a complaint, it’s crucial to understand your rights as a patient. The NHS Constitution outlines these rights, which include:

  • The right to high-quality care
  • The right to be treated with dignity and respect
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to complain and have your complaint investigated

Initial Steps to Take 

Identify the Issue

Before making a complaint, clearly identify the issue you’re facing. Is it related to:

  • Medical treatment?
  • Staff attitude?
  • Waiting times?
  • Facilities?

Clearly understanding the issue will help you articulate your complaint more effectively.

Direct Communication with the Service Provider

If you’re unhappy with an NHS service, it’s often beneficial to discuss your concerns directly with the service, either with the clinician or the service manager. Many issues can be sorted out swiftly at this stage.

Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

Before moving on to formal complaints, you may want to speak to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) who can:

•Help you with health-related questions

•Help resolve concerns or problems 

•Tell you how to get more involved in your own healthcare

PALS can give you information about:

•The NHS

•The NHS complaints procedure

•Support groups outside the NHS

You can usually find a PALS office in NHS hospitals, or you can search for your nearest PALS online.

NHS Complaints Advocate

If you’re contemplating making a formal complaint, you can seek assistance from an NHS complaints advocate. They can guide you in drafting a complaint letter and may accompany you to meetings. However, they cannot complain on your behalf.

Informal Complaints

Verbal Complaints

Sometimes, issues can be resolved quickly through informal channels. You can start by speaking directly to the clinician or a manager. This is often the quickest way to address minor concerns.

Written Complaints

If you’re uncomfortable speaking directly or the issue is more serious, you can write an informal complaint via email or a letter. Make sure to include:

  • Your name and contact details
  • A clear description of the issue
  • What you would like to happen as a result

Formal Complaints

Identifying the Appropriate Body

You can complain directly to the NHS service provider (such as a GP, dentist, or hospital) or to the commissioner of the services. If your complaint involves multiple organisations, you need only file one complaint, and the organisation that receives it will coordinate with the others.

Time Constraints

Complaints should ideally be made within 12 months of the incident or of becoming aware of the issue. This timeframe can be extended under specific conditions.

Methods of Filing a Complaint

Complaints can be lodged verbally, in writing, or via email. If you’re filing a complaint on someone else’s behalf, their written consent will be required.

What to Anticipate After Filing a Complaint

  1. Acknowledgement: You should anticipate an acknowledgement and an offer for a discussion regarding handling your complaint within three working days.
  2. Investigation: Your complaint will undergo an investigation, and you’ll subsequently receive a written response outlining the findings, apologies if warranted, and actions taken as a result of your complaint.
  3. Ombudsman: If you’re not content with the outcome, you can escalate your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Alternative Avenues for Feedback

  • Friends and Family Test (FFT): A quick and anonymous method for offering feedback.
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs): Specifically for patients who have recently undergone hip or knee replacement surgery.

Your opinion matters. If you’re dissatisfied with the healthcare services you’ve received, you have the right to file a complaint. However, it’s worth noting that the way complaints are made and handled is also important. Complaints should be constructive, specific, and based on facts to be most effective. They should be made through the appropriate channels and following the procedures set out by the healthcare provider.

For more in-depth information, you can visit the NHS website.