Making a complaint to the NHS

In the vast majority of cases, the care provided by the NHS and its staff is excellent. But resources are stretched, mistakes happen and sometimes things go wrong. If you’re unhappy with your treatment or a negative experience has given you cause for concern, you might be thinking about making a complaint to the NHS.

You are able to make a complaint at the same time as considering bringing a potential clinical negligence claim. You do not need to wait for the outcome of the complaint to make enquiries with a clinical negligence lawyer about bringing a claim.

If you’re in two minds about making a complaint, remember that the NHS uses negative feedback to improve patient services.

Why complaints are important to the NHS

It’s tempting to put a bad experience behind you and move on with your life. But if you’re unhappy with the quality of your care, it’s important that you let the NHS know.

Why? Because as in any other large organisation, it’s imperative that voices of dissatisfaction are heard. Not only does it enable the provider to gather vital feedback, but it also allows them to identify potential service failures.

In fact, by making a complaint to the NHS, you can help identify problem areas and prevent someone else from suffering a similar experience to you.

NHS Trusts and providers

For NHS Trusts and providers, complaints provide valuable insight into the level of patient care and service they’ve provided.

Consider your complaint to be a form of early warning system. If it’s dealt with properly and lessons can be learnt from your experience, it might prevent similar complaints – and ultimately similar mistakes – being made in the future.


Many patients tell us that all they actually want is an apology. Having someone admit that mistakes were made and that they’re sorry is incredibly powerful. In some cases this is more than enough for them to draw a line under the whole experience and move on.

At the other end of the spectrum, the patient may have suffered life-changing injuries as result of an error and they’re considering a claim for medical negligence compensation.

Either way, making a complaint to the NHS is often the first step in resolving the matter and moving forward with your life.

What are my patient rights?

Being savvy about your patient rights will help you understand whether you have a valid complaint against the NHS.

The NHS Constitution covers treatment provided by NHS doctors, GPs, dentists and other healthcare professionals. It sets out your rights as a patient to access NHS services and receive a professional standard of care.

The Constitution gives you the right to complain about your NHS care and for you to know the outcome of any investigations. If you’ve been injured as a result of your treatment, it also gives you the right to claim medical negligence compensation. This applies no matter what level of NHS treatment you receive. You can download the full NHS Constitution guidelines from the website.

In return, the NHS expects you to take personal responsibility for your own health and to treat the NHS, and its staff, with respect.

Types of NHS Complaints

You can complain about the actions and decisions of any NHS body, including:

  • GPs
  • Doctors
  • Paramedics
  • Surgeons
  • Midwives

You can also complain about private hospitals as long as the treatment was provided on behalf of the NHS.

For example, you probably have a valid complaint if poor nursing care has led to you developing pressure sores. Or if an A&E consultant failed to diagnose a fracture to your arm.

More serious mistakes might include the wrong drugs being administered, causing an adverse reaction. Or if a GP misdiagnosed a serious illness, such as cancer. Both of these mistakes can have long-term implications for the patient.

What if your routine surgery has been cancelled? Or you’ve been kept waiting longer than you think is acceptable for an appointment? However minor, these are also valid complaints that you can ask to be investigated.

To make a formal complaint – whether that’s for your treatment, or on behalf of a loved one – we’ve provided some tips for writing a complaint letter.

Complaining against the NHS FAQs

If you believe that the medical treatment you’ve received from the NHS has fallen below an acceptable standard, you have the right to complain. Read our guide to making a complaint against the NHS. This contains information about the ways in which you can complain and the assistance we can give you.

Most likely, yes.  When you make a complaint to the provider, normally the doctor involved will be asked for their account of what happened when they are preparing the response.

Absolutely not. If your GP practice refuses to treat you or asks you to leave, you should make a complaint to your local Clinical Commissioning Group.

There are various reasons why you might complain about a doctor. For example, excessive delays in treatment, late diagnosis or misdiagnosis of your illness or giving you the wrong medication.

If a doctor has made a mistake or omission in your treatment, they are obliged to tell you about it.

To make a complaint against a doctor, you should contact the service which employs them. So if you’re complaining about a hospital doctor, you should complain to the Trust which manages the hospital.

If you feel confident enough to raise your concerns verbally, you can do this with the doctor or their supervisor at the time of treatment or soon after.

Otherwise, you can make a formal complaint through the NHS complaints procedure, writing to them to explain why you’re complaining about a doctor. For this, you might find our tips for making your complaint useful.

If you don’t want to speak to someone from the same hospital trust, you should write to your local Clinical Commissioning Group which oversees health services in your area.

If you feel let down by the standard of care you’ve received at a GP surgery, you may wish to raise your complaint verbally. If you do, make a note of who you talk to, when and what they say.

However, if this fails to address your concerns or you’d rather complain to your GP in writing, your next step should be to request a copy of the surgery’s complaints procedure.

Once you have read and understood your GP’s complaints procedure, you should write to them to explain the cause of your complaint, who or what you feel is responsible and what you would like to happen next.

For this, you might find our tips for making your complaint and our template complaint letters useful.

You should receive a response to your GP complaint letter within three working days.

Even though General Practitioners are not employed directly by the NHS, they still have a contract with it to provide medical services. Therefore if you haven’t already complained to your surgery, you can complain to the NHS in your region instead.

If you are not happy with the NHS’s response to your complaint about your GP, you can refer your complaint to the independent Health Ombudsman and ask that they review it.

If a midwife or obstetrician has been negligent in their treatment of you or your child, you have the right to complain. It may be beneficial to have a discussion with those treating you or your partner to understand the reasons behind their decision making. This might help you to understand better what happened and it may then be that you do not want to continue with your complaint after all, it may be that they had good reasons for their actions.

However, if you are unhappy with their answers, you should make a complaint to the NHS through the normal complaints procedure.

Alternatively, if you believe that a midwife or nurse is endangering patient safety, you can also raise your concerns with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. They will conduct an independent review of your complaint.

Complaints about care and treatment given in private hospitals should be made directly to the organisation which manages it.

Private hospitals are not bound by the NHS complaints procedure. However, they will have their own process for dealing with negative feedback and complaints about medical treatment.

If you can’t resolve your concerns informally with the management at the private hospital, you should request a copy of their complaints policy. The procedure for complaining varies between hospitals but is often similar to the standard set by the NHS.

If your care was provided by a private hospital but funded by the NHS, you can still complain to the hospital as above.

If you’re unhappy with the response you receive from the hospital to your complaint about healthcare, you can contact the Care Quality Commission and ask them to investigate.

If the hospital is a member of the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations (AIHO) you could also complain to them about the treatment you have received.

Tips for making a complaint against the NHS

Consider these points before making your complaint:

What do you want to achieve?

Think carefully about your ideal outcome. Do you want an explanation, or simply someone to say “we’re sorry”? If your complaint is against an individual, do you want disciplinary action taken against them? Be clear in your complaint about what you want to achieve.

Make notes

Before complaining, make a note of all relevant events. Depending upon the nature of your illness or injury, this may be difficult, but – as far as you can – try to record dates, times, names and details of relevant conversations.

If you have any witnesses to your treatment or care, make sure that you include their contact details.

Decide how you’ll complain

Think about how you’re going to make your complaint. Are you going to complain verbally, or in writing?

Verbal complaints do not have to be actioned, whereas a written complaint does have to be formally dealt with. A written complaint should be made once you feel comfortable to do so, and if you do not receive a written response, it is likely that you will be invited to a meeting. This meeting will likely be recorded and you can request a copy of that recording.

If your complaint is not responded to in an appropriate way, you can go to the Healthcare Ombudsman.

For writing a complaint, you might find our templates useful.

Stick to the facts

When it comes to making your complaint, it’s important that you focus on the main issues. Keep it factual, to-the-point and leave out anything which isn’t relevant to your care or treatment. You should also keep a copy of your letter and a note of when you sent it as part of your audit trail.

Taking action

If you’re unhappy with the NHS care or treatment you’ve received, you have the right to complain. You also have the right to have your complaint investigated and be given a full and prompt reply.


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