NHS complaints guidance

Updated 14 October 2015

Most NHS care and treatment goes well but sometimes things can go wrong. If you are unhappy with your care or the services you have received, it is important to let us know so that we can improve.

There are 2 ways to tell the NHS what you think:

  • give feedback
  • make a complaint

1. Giving feedback

Feedback helps us improve the quality of your care. You can give good or bad feedback by telling the NHS organisation or service about it. For example, you can do this through the ‘Friends and Family Test’, or, you can speak to a member of staff.

Other ways to give feedback should be clearly displayed at the service you visit.

If you are unhappy with an NHS service, it is worthwhile discussing your concerns early on with the provider of the service, as they may be able to sort the issue out quickly. Most problems can be dealt with at this stage but, in some cases, you may feel more comfortable speaking to someone not directly involved in your care.

2. How to make a complaint

NHS complaints procedure

When making a complaint, you can choose to complain to either:

  • the healthcare provider: this is the organisation where you received the NHS service, for example your hospital, GP surgery or dental surgery
  • the commissioner: this is the organisation that paid for the service or care you received

The commissioner will vary depending on the NHS service you are complaining about.

If your complaint is about primary care services such as GPs, dentists, opticians or pharmacy services, contact NHS England.

If your complaint is about services such as hospital care, mental health services, out-of-hours services and community services such as district nursing, contact your local clinical commissioning group.

If your complaint is about public health organisations (those who provide services which prevent disease, promote health and prolong life), contact your local authority.

Complaining to the commissioner may be the right option if you are not comfortable complaining direct to your healthcare provider, or if you feel this is not appropriate.

You can complain in writing, by email or by speaking to someone in the organisation.

You should make your complaint within 12 months of the incident, or within 12 months of the matter coming to your attention. This time limit can sometimes be extended as long as it is still possible to investigate your complaint.

Anyone can complain, including young people. A family member, carer, friend, or your local MP, can complain on your behalf with your permission.

3. What to expect after making a complaint

You should:

  • have your complaint acknowledged and properly looked into
  • be kept informed of progress and told the outcome
  • be treated fairly, politely and with respect
  • be sure that your care and treatment will not be affected as a result of making a complaint
  • be offered the opportunity to discuss the complaint with a complaints manager
  • expect appropriate action to be taken following your complaint

4. Getting help with making a complaint

Making a complaint can seem difficult, but support is available.

Contact your local council or local Healthwatch to find out about independent NHS complaints advocacy services in your area.

Contact your local citizens’ advice bureau for support with complaints about the NHS, social services or local authorities.

Most hospitals have a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), who provide confidential advice, support and information to patients, their families and carers. Contact the hospital or visit their website for more details.

5. If you’re not happy with the response to a complaint

If you are still not happy with the response provided, you can ask the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to look at your complaint.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Millbank Tower
London, SW1P 4QP
Phone: 0345 015 4033

For public health services complaints, contact the Local Government Ombudsman.

The NHS Constitution sets out your rights as a patient, and explains the commitments the NHS has made to providing you with a high-quality service. Organisations providing NHS care must take account of the NHS Constitution when treating you, so you may find it helpful to refer to it if you are thinking about making a complaint.

6. Useful contact details


To find the contact details for your local Healthwatch, visit the Healthwatch website or call Healthwatch England on 0300 068 3000.

Citizens Advice

You can contact Citizens advice by calling 0344 411 1444.

Primary care complaints (for example, GPs, dentists)

Write to:

NHS England
PO Box 16738
Redditch, B97 9PT

Email: Phone: 0300 311 2233

Secondary care complaints (for example, hospitals)

To find information about your local clinical commissioning group, visit NHS Choices.