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Deciding to make a complaint?

Making a complaint can feel daunting and scary, and you might be wondering whether it's worth the time and effort. However, if you have problems with an NHS or social care service, you might need to resolve these to get the care you need. 

Who can I complain to?

The NHS and social care services are there to provide care to everyone. If you have concerns over any aspect of your care or the actions or decisions of any NHS or social care body, you have the right to make a complaint.

If you decide to make a complaint, you have several options. In the first instance, we recommend you speak directly to the service itself and see if you can resolve the issue between you.

If you can’t resolve the issue directly with the service, you can:

  • In most cases, this will be one of England’s 42 integrated care boards, which are responsible for commissioning (planning and funding) your local GP, dental, community, mental health and hospital services.
  • Report your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
  • Report the problem to another regulatory body, such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC). CQC are not responsible for dealing with individual complaints, but if it raises concerns over the service, it may wish to investigate further.
  • Use your local authority complaints procedure if your complaint is about social care provided by the council.
  • Report your complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
  • Report a healthcare professional to their regulatory body in cases of professional misconduct.
  • Take legal action, for example, if you have suffered from clinical negligence, personal injury or breach of your human rights.

Should I make a complaint?

If your complaint is an immediate or high-risk situation, such as you or your loved one are not receiving enough care, there is a risk to your safety, or you have suffered from discrimination, you should report the problem immediately.

You may decide not to make a complaint because you are worried that it might make your situation worse. You may worry that if you speak to the services directly, you could annoy them, and the standard of care you receive might get worse.

You are not alone – a lot of people don’t make a complaint because of these fears.

But it is important that where services aren’t working as planned, NHS and social care providers learn from complaints, communicate those lessons to people, and improve.

The rules about making a complaint allow you to complain either directly to the organisation providing the service or to the organisation that buys (commissions) the service. For example, if you’re unhappy with the treatment you are getting from your General Practitioner (GP), you could:

  • Speak informally to someone at the GP surgery about your concerns
  • Ask to move to another GP in the same practice or a new practice
  • Formally complain to either the GP surgery or your local integrated care board (as the commissioner).

What can I achieve through a complaint?

Before you make a complaint, it is helpful to think about what you want to achieve. These can include:

  • Getting access to the care you need
  • To improve the service, so other people don’t have the same experience you had
  • To get an explanation of what went wrong and an apology.
  • To get someone disciplined or prosecuted.
  • To get compensation

NHS complaints procedure

Everyone who provides an NHS service in England must have their own complaints procedure. You should be able to find information in the waiting room, at reception, on their website or by asking a staff member.

You can either complain directly to the service or to the service commissioner (this is the organisation that paid for the service or care you received). You cannot complain to both at the same time.

If you prefer not to raise your concern with the service, these are the commissioners:

Your local integrated care board (ICB) for complaints about:

  • GPs, dentists, opticians or pharmacists
  • hospital care, mental health services, out of hours services, ambulance services,
  • NHS Continuing Healthcare,
  • NHS 111
  • community services such as district nursing.

Your local authority for complaints about public health organisations and services that prevent disease, promote health and prolong life.

Complaints about GPs, dentists, opticians and pharmacists were previously dealt with by NHS England.  When responsibility for these services was delegated to local ICBs, this included responsibility for handling complaints. NHS England will continue to deal with complaints for a small number of issues including:

  • Specialised Commissioning
  • Health and Justice
  • Armed Forces Health
  • Public Health Immunisations and Vaccinations
  • Services delivered nationally by NHSE to patients/public (such as Screening Call and Recall, NHS App etc)

Complaints must be made within 12 months of an incident or of you being made aware of the situation.

If you have followed the complaints procedure but do not think the issue has been resolved or are unhappy with the outcome you can ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for an independent review.

For more information on the NHS complaints process, visit their website.

Social care complaints

You can complain about any aspect of adult social care, regardless of whether the service is provided by the local authority, a private company or a voluntary organisation. And again, you can complain either to the social care provider or to the service commissioner.

Each social care service will have its own complaints procedure, which should be available to you on request.

You have the right to make a complaint if you have been affected or are likely to be affected by the action or decision of the organisation. You can also make a complaint on someone else behalf if they have asked you to, are incapable of making the complaint themselves, or are deceased.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your complaint, you can speak to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman about a review.

I’ve made a complaint, what happens next?

The service you have complained to should always acknowledge your complaint and respond with how they intend to investigate.

The organisation should then investigate your complaint and resolve the problem quickly and efficiently. They should also keep you fully informed about how the investigation is going.

You may be invited to a meeting to discuss your complaint or offer mediation or other help to resolve the complaint. It’s good practice to allow you to be accompanied to any meeting – so don’t feel like you need to go alone.

Once they have investigated your complaint, they must then respond to you. Their response should:

  • Explain how the complaint has been investigated
  • Explain the conclusions they have reached, including any action they intend to take to resolve the situation
  • Give details of how to escalate your complaint if you are not satisfied with the response.

To find out more about what you can expect from services or commissioners when you make a complaint, see the toolkit "My expectations for making a complaint" developed by us together with the Local Government Ombudsman and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. 

View the toolkit