Preparing to make a complaint

What am I unhappy about?

Before you begin your complaint, it is important to be clear about what area of your NHS care you are unhappy about. This can be about any part of the NHS care/services you have received and may include:

  • Treatment or care

  • Attitudes of the staff

  • Poor communication

  • Waiting times

  • Lack of information

  • Failing to diagnose a condition

Tip: It is always a good idea to write down what you want to complain about as simply and clearly as you can, so that you can refer back to it.

What do I want to achieve by making a complaint?

Think about what you hope to achieve; your issues are more likely to be dealt with smoothly if you can be specific, realistic and aware that there are limits on what can be achieved using the NHS Complaints Procedure.

The types of outcomes that may be achieved are:

  • An explanation of what happened and why

  • An apology

  • What training, changes or service improvements might take place which will help to ensure a similar incident will not happen again

  • An investigation carried out

Financial compensation is outside the scope of the NHS Complaints process. However, you can claim back costs. This is called financial redress and is there to put you back in the same financial position as before the incident.

Examples: lost or damaged property during treatment or hospital stay; lost income or high parking fees because of appointments that were cancelled or started much later than the appointment time.

How do I raise my complaint?

Once you are clear about your complaint, the next step is to decide how you would like to raise your concerns.

There are different ways you can do this depending on what you feel comfortable with. The ways your complaint can be raised could be:

  1. Speaking to a member of staff directly Many complaints are caused by misunderstandings or poor communication that can often be put right once the problem is explained. If you feel you are able to, you can speak to a member of staff who has been directly involved in your care and treatment or ask to speak to their manager. This is often the quickest way to put things right and prevent issues from getting worse.

  2. Speaking to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) If you feel uncomfortable about contacting the NHS member of staff directly, or you have tried and it has not resolved your issues, PALS may be able to help you and this service is free and available in all hospitals.

  3. Making a formal complaint Complaints can be made by explaining what happened to you in person, on the telephone, by email or in a letter. It is important to say that you are making a formal complaint. NHS organisations often prefer having complaints in writing. However, if you would prefer making your complaint on the telephone or in person ask to speak to the Complaints Manager and they should make a written record of your complaint and send you a copy. A complaint can also be about more than one NHS provider. You can request in your complaint letter that you wish to receive a response from all the providers.

Who do I complain to?

As the NHS is provided by lots of different organisations, there are different people to complain to:

Primary care providers such as dentists, district nurses, GPs, pharmacies and opticians

Complaints to primary care providers can generally be made to the Practice Manager. However, if you do not feel comfortable making the complaint to the Practice Manager you can make your complaint to NHS England by calling 0300 311 22 33 or by visiting the website


You can raise your complaint to the member of staff involved in your care and treatment. You can also go to PALS which is a service all hospitals provide for quick resolutions that deal with current issues. However, they are not an independent advocacy complaints organisation like The Advocacy People. Alternatively, you can contact the complaints department.

Care homes (NHS funded)

Many care homes have their own complaints procedure to follow. However, they should still be aware of the NHS complaints procedure.

Community Services

These include ambulance services and the Community Mental Health Team. You may wish to raise a complaint about these if they are not providing adequate care and support.

What if I had my treatment in a private hospital?

If the NHS paid for your treatment in a private hospital you can complain to the CCG who funded the treatment or complain directly to the private hospital noting that you are making a formal NHS complaint.

If you paid for your treatment yourself, or with private medical insurance, you cannot complain to the NHS. The private hospital will have its own complaints procedure which you should follow.

Can I complain about care and treatment provided at a hospice?

Hospices are usually run as a charity. If the care and treatment was specifically funded by the NHS then you can make a complaint through the NHS Complaints process.

If the care and treatment was not funded by the NHS, you will need to follow the Hospice’s own complaints procedure. You can ask their administration team for a copy of this.

If the Hospice is a member of ISCAS – Independent Healthcare Sector Complaints Adjudication Service - you can follow their complaints procedure. ISCAS is recognised amongst patients, public and healthcare organisations for providing a complaints management framework in the independent healthcare sector through a Code of Practice.

Membership of the scheme is voluntary, so you will need to check with the Hospice (or online) if they are a member.