NHS Complaints

Understanding the NHS Complaints Process

How it works

You should make your complaint within 12 months of the event


within 12 months of you realising you had something to complain about.


NHS organisations are allowed to waive this time limit at their discretion if there are good reasons why you could not complain.

How do I make a complaint?


You can do this in person, over the phone, by email or letter.

More information can be found here:

Preparing to make a complaint

Writing a letter of complaint

If you would like to find out how an advocate could help click here:

Advocacy Support


What can I expect from the NHS when I make a complaint?


  • To be treated with courtesy and respect

  • To be offered support to help you raise your complaint

  • A timely response to be given where possible


NHS policy says that you should receive a letter of acknowledgement within three working days from receipt of your letter of complaint. The NHS should contact you to discuss your complaint and arrange a plan to resolve your concerns with you. This means that they will discuss how best to resolve your concerns and what you hope to achieve from raising them.

They should also agree with you a timescale for resolving the issues and keep you informed of progress.  The length of time it will take will depend on:

  • how many staff they need to speak to

  • how easy it is for them to access your medical records

  • if other NHS organisations are involved in your complaint


If there is a problem in keeping to this timescale, they should contact you before it expires to agree an amended timescale.


They might invite you to a Local Resolution Meeting (LRM). Sometimes, it is easier to hear answers to what may seem to be a straightforward question but may have a complex medical explanation.


For more information about LRMs, click here.


After the Investigation


Once the investigation is finished and any meetings have been held the Complaints Manager should send you a letter containing:

  • A summary of your complaint

  • What the investigation found and any actions to be taken as a result

  • What to do if you are still unhappy with the answers given


Depending on the investigation the letter may contain:

  • An apology, if relevant

  • What actions will be taken and when, as a result of your complaint

  • Who is responsible for making this happen

  • What steps have been taken to prevent the same thing happening to other people


The letter should be:

  • Balanced, factual and impartial

  • Clear and easy to understand


What do I do if I’m not happy with the response?


You can go back to them in writing, quoting the complaint reference number and telling them the part(s) that you are not happy with or don’t understand.


You can’t ask any new questions unless the response has raised issues that you weren’t previously aware of. Any further issues you have must only relate to the issues and questions in the original complaint.


You can ask for a further response to be in writing or, if there hasn’t already been one, ask for a Local Resolution Meeting.


What if I’m still not happy with the response?


The steps so far are called Local Resolution and this must be finished before you can take the matter further.

When Local Resolution is considered by the NHS organisation to have ended you will be given the option of taking your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).


For more information about the PHSO, click here:

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.


For complaints about the use of the Mental Health Act, you have the option of going to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Can I make a claim for Clinical Negligence?


There are limits to what can be achieved using the NHS Complaints Procedure and it cannot be used for financial compensation for clinical negligence. This is usually only possible through legal action.

You will need to speak to a specialist medical or clinical negligence solicitor within 3 years of the event or you becoming aware that there is something to complaint about.


You can obtain details about accessing specialist solicitors by contacting The Law Society, whose details can be found here www.lawsociety.org.uk or Action Against Medical Accidents whose details can be found here www.avma.org.uk.