HealthBauer Xcel

A five-minute guide to making a complaint to the NHS

HealthBauer Xcel
A five-minute guide to making a complaint to the NHS

Meet our experts: Stephanie Linden is service manager of the NHS Complaints Advocacy; Jill Morrell is head of public engagement and involvement for the Care Quality Commission.

While we naturally hope we’ll receive the best care from the NHS when we’re unwell, sadly there are times when this doesn’t happen. When you have a complaint, it’s important that you express your dissatisfaction and have your case fully investigated. These are the standard procedures you need to follow initially.

1. Pin down your complaint

“Anyone who’s unhappy with an NHS service has the right to complain,” says Stephanie Linden. “You can also complain on behalf of someone else, but it’s helpful to get their written permission for this.” Complaints can cover treatment or care, staff attitude, waiting times, or failing to diagnose a condition, for example.

It’s important to pin down exactly what you’re complaining about and why. Think about what action you want to put things right, whether that’s an apology or a change in practice. If you want compensation for clinical negligence, be aware that this usually involves legal action. It’s recommended that all complaints are made within 12 months of the problem you are unhappy about.

2. Find out who to contact

“If you can, speak informally to the people involved first as they may be able to sort out your problem quickly,” says Jill Morrell. “If this doesn’t work, ask a member of staff for the complaints procedure of your local NHS to begin a formal complaint.”

This usually requires you to write to the chief executive or complaints manager of the organisation. You’ll need to include your name, date of birth, contact details and NHS number. “Describe your complaint as clearly as possible, sticking to the facts, and outline the outcomes you’re hoping for,” says Stephanie. If your complaint involves more than one NHS organisation, you only need to send a letter to one of them because they will liaise with each other.

3. Wait for a reply

The NHS has three working days to acknowledge your complaint. After this, you may be invited to a meeting to discuss matters. You’ll also be asked to agree to a timescale in which the NHS will investigate and formally respond to your complaint.

Once the investigation is over, you should receive a letter summing up your complaint and the NHS’s findings along with what actions, if any, will be taken. “All the way through the complaints procedure, write down the names of the people you speak to and keep copies of all the letters and emails you send and receive” says Jill.

4. Taking things further

If you’re not happy with the response you’re given, you can request a meeting to discuss why you’re not satisfied, or you can take the complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who will see if there’s anything more the NHS could do in response. Call 0345 015 4033 or visit

Who can help with your complaint?

  • The NHS Complaints Advocacy is a free, independent service that listens to patients’ complaints, advises options and helps them through the complaints process. Call 0300 330 5454 or visit
  • The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)is a confidential point of contact, advice and support. You can find PALS officers in your local hospital or ask your GP for details.
  • The Care Quality Commission (CQC) doesn’t resolve complaints but needs to hear about poor care to help prevent it happening again. Call 03000 616161 or visit