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Your guide to raising a complaint with the NHS

Complaining about your treatment by a GP or NHS Hospital

Every NHS-run organisation is obliged to have a comprehensive complaints procedure. The procedure will be broadly the same across most NHS hospitals but may vary in relation to private Hospitals GP practices, or dental surgeries.

When to make a complaint

If you have concerns regarding the care or treatment you have received, or if you have been refused treatment, you have the right to make a formal complaint.
You have the right to the following:

  • Lodge an oral or written formal complaint
  • Have your complaint dealt with efficiently, and for it to be properly investigated
  • Know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint
  • Take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman if you are not satisfied with the way that your complaint has been dealt with

There is usually a time limit of 12 months for bringing a complaint, which runs from the date treatment was provided.

Extensions to the time limit can be granted, particularly in situations where it would have been difficult for the patient to complain earlier (for example if grieving or in the case of ongoing illness/ trauma, or if a patient wasn’t aware of negligent treatment at the time it occurred).

How to make a complaint

The NHS complaints process has two stages. You must go through the first stage before moving to the second.
The first stage involves a direct complaint to the place where you received the treatment. The second stage involves escalating the complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman.

  1. Local Resolution: ask your GP surgery, dentist, hospital or NHS Trust for a copy of their complaints procedure which will explain how to proceed. Your first step will normally be to write a letter of complaint but this will often follow a verbal complaint. We will be happy to help you draft a written complaint if required.
  2. The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman: If you are unhappy with the response to your complaint at the local level, you can complain to the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will not fully investigate every complaint they receive. See below for further information on the Ombudsman service and remit.

Download our factsheet: how to make an NHS complaint

After you’ve made a complaint

Most NHS Trust complaints procedures advise that you will receive an acknowledgement within 14 days but many will acknowledge your letter within 3 days.

The letter acknowledging your complaint should provide an indication of how long it will take to investigate your complaint and when you can expect to receive a full response.

The timescale for providing a full written response to your complaint will vary depending on the nature of your concerns and the investigations which need to be carried out in order to provide a substantive response.

If you’re not satisfied with the result of your complaint

Where the complaints process has failed to address the concerns raised you additionally have a right to:

  • Make a claim for judicial review if you think you have been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body, and
  • Receive compensation if you have been harmed

Making a compensation claim after you’ve made a complaint

If an NHS Trust investigates a complaint and accepts that there were serious failings in care, you could make a legal claim for compensation. At this point the trust will usually advise you to seek independent legal advice in order to progress matters further.

For a medical negligence claim to succeed, a patient must satisfy two legal tests: firstly breach of duty (that there was a failure in the treatment provided) and secondly causation (that you were harmed as a result of the practitioner’s actions).

Pursuing a complaint can therefore be a very useful exercise if you are contemplating making a claim. Even if no apologies or admissions are forthcoming in the complaints response, a detailed investigation and written explanation about what has happened can assist your solicitor when looking into different aspects of a legal claim. A response to a complaint can also sometimes be helpful to provide closure in relation to what has happened.

Speak to a medical negligence solicitor

If you need to make a complaint or compensation claim arising out of poor NHS treatment call us now on 0800 316 8892 or contact us online.

Your key contacts

Kerry Fifield

Partner and Clinical Negligence Team Manager

Kerry’s primary focus is the needs of the client and their family when pursuing a claim, taking into account that each client is an individual with specific requirements who needs to be supported in addition to the legal investigation.
View profile for Kerry Fifield >

Marguarita Tyne

Head of Personal Injury & Medical Negligence

Marguarita Tyne is a claimant clinical negligence solicitor who investigates and brings claims on behalf of patients who have been injured during the course of their medical treatment, acting mainly (but not exclusively) for brain injury claimants in high value and often complex litigation.
View profile for Marguarita Tyne >

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