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Making a complaint to 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 GP practices.

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 GP or hospital has dealt with your complaint

There is 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).

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 treating NHS hospital, treatment centre or GP. The second stage involves the Health Service Ombudsman.

  1. Local Resolution: ask your GP surgery, 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 to a practice manager, GP, Doctor or hospital.
  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.

You can download our factsheet for full details of how to make an NHS complaint.

After you’ve made a complaint

Most NHS Trust complaints procedures require an acknowledgement within 14 days but many will acknowledge your letter within 3 days.

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.

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.

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

Where the complaints process has failed or does not satisfy your needs 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.

For a medical negligence claim to succeed, a patient must prove two legal tests: breach of duty (that the practitioner is liable) and 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 from the hospital, a detailed investigation and written explanation can assist your solicitor when looking into different aspects of a legal claim.

Related services

 Helpful links

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.