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The NHS complaints procedure

Most medical care and treatment goes well, but things occasionally go wrong, and you may want to complain. So where do you start? Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure. To find out about it, ask a member of staff, look on the hospital or trust's website, or contact the complaints department for more information.

You may want to make positive comments on the care and services that you've received. These comments are just as important because they tell NHS organisations which factors are contributing to a good experience for patients. 

What are my rights?

If you're not happy with the care or treatment you've received or you've been refused treatment for a condition, you have the right to complain, have your complaint investigated, and be given a full and prompt reply.

The NHS Constitution explains your rights when it comes to making a complaint. You have the right to:

  • have your complaint dealt with efficiently, and properly investigated,
  • know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint,
  • take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if you're not satisfied with the way the NHS has dealt with your complaint,
  • make a claim for judicial review if you think you've been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body, and
  • receive compensation if you've been harmed.  

Who should I complain to?

If you're not happy with an NHS service you can make a complaint. You should complain to your service provider such as GP, dentist, hospital or pharmacist first.

Alternatively, you can complaint to the commissioner of that service. In the past, this was your local primary care trust (PCT). PCTs ceased to exist on April 1 2013. Now you will have to take your complaint either to NHS England or your local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

In general, NHS England commissions most primary care services like GP and dental services. CCGs oversee the commissioning of secondary care such as hospital care and some community services.

When should I complain?

As soon as possible. Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of the date of the event that you're complaining about, or as soon as the matter first came to your attention.

The time limit can sometimes be extended (so long as it's still possible to investigate the complaint). An extension might be possible, such as in situations where it would have been difficult for you to complain earlier, for example, when you were grieving or undergoing trauma. 

Where do I start?

Since April 2009, the NHS has run a simple complaints process, which has two stages.

  1. Ask your GP, hospital or trust for a copy of its complaints procedure, which will explain how to proceed. Your first step will normally be to raise the matter (in writing or by speaking to them) with the practitioner, e.g. the nurse or doctor concerned, or with their organisation, which will have a complaints manager. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can raise the matter with the relevant commissioning body such as the NHS England or a local CCG. The process is called local resolution, and most cases are resolved at this stage.
  2. If you're still unhappy, you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is independent of the NHS and government. Call 0345 015 4033  

Who can help?

Making a complaint can be daunting, but help is available. 

Patient Advice and Liaison Service

Officers from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) are available in all hospitals. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters to patients, their families and their carers. Find your local PALS office

NHS Complaints Independent Advocacy Service

Since April 1 2013, individual local authorities have a statutory duty to commission independent advocacy services to provide support for people making, or thinking of making, a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. Arrangements will vary between local authority areas. Contact your local PALS or complaints manager, or local authority for information about how this service is provided in your area. 

Citizens Advice Bureau

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can be a great source of advice and support if you want to complain about the NHS, social services or local authorities. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau on its website.  

NHS Direct

NHS Direct can advise on NHS complaints. Call 0845 4647.  

The Public Law Project’s website includes a guide to making a complaint.

NHS Choices complaint process

In the event that a complaint is made about a piece of content that cannot be resolved by the NHS Choices journalist, the matter will be escalated to the Chief Editor.

Note: NHS Choices is only responsible for the content of this website and any operational issues about it. If you wish to make a complaint about our content or any operational issues, please take a look at the NHS Choices complaint process (PDF,61kb). For more detailed information see our NHS Choices complaints policy (PDF, 162kb).

James Cook Hospital

Hartlepool & Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group