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How to complain

Most medical care and treatment goes well, but things occasionally go wrong, and you may want to complain. So where do you start? Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure. To find out about it, ask a member of staff, look on the hospital or trust's website, or contact the complaints department for more information.

You may want to make positive comments on the care and services that you've received. These comments are just as important because they tell NHS organisations which factors are contributing to a good experience for patients.


What are my rights?

If you're not happy with the care or treatment you've received or you've been refused treatment for a condition, you have the right to complain, have your complaint investigated, and be given a full and prompt reply.

The NHS Constitution explains your rights when it comes to making a complaint. You have the right to:

  • have your complaint dealt with efficiently, and properly investigated,
  • know the outcome of any investigation into your complaint,
  • take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman if you're not satisfied with the way the NHS has dealt with your complaint,
  • make a claim for judicial review if you think you've been directly affected by an unlawful act or decision of an NHS body, and
  • receive compensation if you've been harmed.


Who should I complain to?

You can complain either to the service that you're unhappy with, or you can complain to your local primary care trust (PCT) that commissioned the service.


When should I complain?

As soon as possible. Complaints should normally be made within 12 months of the date of the event that you're complaining about, or as soon as the matter first came to your attention.

The time limit can sometimes be extended (so long as it's still possible to investigate the complaint). An extension might be possible, such as in situations where it would have been difficult for you to complain earlier, for example, when you were grieving or undergoing trauma.


Where do I start?

Since April 2009, the NHS has run a simple complaints process, which has two stages.

  1. Ask your hospital or trust for a copy of its complaints procedure, which will explain how to proceed. Your first step will normally be to raise the matter (in writing or by speaking to them) with the practitioner, e.g. the nurse or doctor concerned, or with their organisation, which will have a complaints manager. This is called local resolution, and most cases are resolved at this stage.
  2. If you're still unhappy, you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who is independent of the NHS and government. Call 0345 015 4033


Who can help?

Making a complaint can be daunting, but help is available.


Patient Advice and Liaison Service

Officers from the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) are available in all hospitals. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters to patients, their families and their carers. You can find your local PALS office at the Office Directory at PALS Online.


Independent Complaints Advocacy Service

The Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS) is a national service that supports people who wish to make a complaint about their NHS care or treatment. Contact your local ICAS office through the hospital manager or PALS, or by calling the following numbers:

  • London: 0300 456 2370 
  • South East: 0845 600 8616
  • Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire: 0300 456 2370
  • Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk: 0300 456 2370
  • Essex: 0300 456 2370
  • South West: 0845 120 3782
  • West Midlands: 0300 456 2370
  • East Midlands: 0300 456 8347
  • North East: 0300 456 8348 
  • North West: 0300 456 8350
  • Yorkshire and Humberside: 0300 456 8349


Citizens Advice Bureau

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can be a great source of advice and support if you want to complain about the NHS, social services or local authorities. You can find your local Citizens Advice Bureau on its website. 


NHS Direct

NHS Direct can advise on NHS complaints. Call 0845 4647. 


The Public Law Project’s website includes a guide to making a complaint.

Things to think about when complaining show

If you decide to make a complaint it's important to consider what you want to happen. Are you content with an apology, do you want action to be taken against a member of staff, or do you want a change to the system? Whatever action you're seeking, make this clear.

Before you make your complaint, make a note of the relevant events, dates, times, names and conversations, and include all necessary details. Your notes will also help you to remember all the details in the future. Processing a complaint can take a while, and you might be asked to verify some information at a later stage.

Whether you decide to complain orally or in writing, try to make your explanations as short and clear as possible. Focus on the main issues, and leave out irrelevant details. If you can, talk through what you want to say with someone else, or ask them to read what you've written before you send it. If you complain in writing, keep a copy of everything you post, and make a note of when you sent it. 

User555591 said on 16 May 2011

The care my husband has been receiving has been excellent at fazakerley hospital in aintree.
My issue is with the reception in clinic 6 and 7. They give you such a hard time about everything from booking an appointment to asking for further information on where to go or for additional forms that are needed. They have such a bad attitude. I realise they're asked for the same information all the time but it's not the patients' fault.

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Triquetra said on 26 April 2011

I recently went to my GP and was prescribed 2 medications. I gave the prescription to the Pharmacy and paid £14.80 for both items and waited for them. I was then told that they one of the medications alright but that they only had 1 weeks worth of the other item and they gave me an "I.O.U" for it, and told me to come back the next day, I did so, but just missed them, I went again the next day to be told they were having trouble obtaining the item and I would have to come back again after the bank holiday. I asked them what would happen if they couldn't get the rest of the missing item, and was informed that I would have to get another appointment with my GP, get another prescription and that I would be charged for it again. I don't see how this can be right, as they did not complete the prescription but charged me for the whole thing. Has anyone else been in this situation? I will be ringing the NHS PCT to ask for the official stance on this, and will be making an official complaint if they say this is so. It's an absolute disgrace if it is!!!

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aminamum said on 15 April 2011

I'm trying to conceive for more than 3 years but nothing happened and I can't get a referral to the specialist because of the new regulation -bcause i have a 6 years girl-

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Ray2010 said on 19 March 2011

I am a patient and have right to name the bad GP or Nurse. Of course I would give full my reason(s) for name and shame the GP/Nurse.

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zainy said on 23 February 2011

I've been trying to get an appointment with my GP and I keep getting told to ring at 9am, when I do I can't get through because the line is busy. when they finally pick up I get told to ring back because all the appointments have been taken. I really don't know what to do. The receptionists have the cheek to get angry and tell me to take the appointment with the practice nurse if i'm that desperate. I haven't been able to see my GP for over a year because every time I ring he's either on holiday or fully booked. Now they've got a stupid system in place where we get put through to the practice nurse and she will then put us through to the doctor, and if she thinks we're not sick enough to see him then we don't get an appointment. Great isn't it!

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migster said on 07 January 2011

why are most receptionists in Drs surgerys so rude & incompetent?

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DavidMills said on 07 December 2010

I have a question. Why when the Doctor issues a Repeat Script does the Doctor have to print out one script for each repeat rather than printing with script stating the number of repeats to be issued? Why does the Pharmacy not have a computer system whereby they can enter the number of repeats authorised by the Doctor and then print the number of remaining repeats on the label placed on the packaging of the prescribed item?

In theory you want to save money and reduce waste – printing the repeat script for each repeat is a waste of money compared to printing the script once

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APatientPatient said on 23 November 2010

-the rule of being in the catchment area of a practice should be abolished, as this facilitate badly run, non-professional GPs to practice medicine and sometimes, as a consequence, people get killed by their GPs incompetence;
-patients should be allowed to register whereever they want;
-if a practice runs badly, 2 get shut down, because the number of patients is very low (inefficient to keep this open); only in case of depopulated areas to allow the practice to be open, up and running, if the patients are pleased with the practice performance.

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APatientPatient said on 23 November 2010

I was trying to actually say that I would welcome specialist clinics, like GUM Clinics, for different medical problems, walk in and with appointments, disregarding the GPs referral rule.

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APatientPatient said on 23 November 2010

-patients should have the option to allow to some people to have access to their records during their life time and after death (their folowers' lives may be same by the information provided through their parents or grandparents medical records);
-the blood group of each person should be legally recorded in their IDs/passports, as in case of accident, it's best and quickest source of information for an ambulance;

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APatientPatient said on 23 November 2010

-my previous practice receptionist ‘forgot’ 2 update my details, same update of address requested for 3 times & I missed my physiotherapy appointment because of her lack of professionalism;
-direct access 2 specialist treatments & walk in clinics for each speciality you name, as this waste of paper & envelopes & calls & salaries for the ones who r handling docs….is futile…non-efficient…damaging patient’s health by having a delayed treatment & is not cost effective for NHS (like GUM Clinics);
-an easier way 2 complain & 2 follow up a complaint;
-images, such Xrays, MRI scans etc, to be in the patient possesion as well as scan on the GPs PC;

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APatientPatient said on 23 November 2010

-accountability & fairness in treatment: CCTV cameras 2 work 2 film not only the possible abusive patient, but receptionists & GPs as well; any patient 2 be able 2 have access 2 their recorded time spent in the practice or 2 privately record his/her session as some has memory problems, others language difficulties & some are really bullied by the staff & they need 2 have a proof of the staff’s behaviour when they complain about it;
-transparency & openness: what GP writes down in the PC should be shown 2 patient immediately, enabling immediate amendments or printed for patient’s own use, if requested; many cases of misunderstandings due 2 language difficulties or lack of professionalism; some patients want 2 treat their illnesses in different countries or 2 have their medical records back in their native countries as well; patient are not DUMP persons, they are the most interested people in their healing and they know best their illness; many temporary GPs who have no idea about the evolution of some patients’ chronic diseases or patients health past;
-abolishment of this 10 min appointment rule (once, I discussed with my former GP about my stomach & when I said I also have ear infection, I was told off & sent 2 make another appointment as it’s a different matter & we finished my allocated 10 min appointment time);
-respect towards patient’s requests & suggestions without having to put up with haughty behaviour from medical staff (some patients are educated level 7 & they’ve studied their illnesses better than the GPs; patient is the one who is keen on getting healthy for sure, as for GPs, many appointments means more money, situation which creates lack of interest of GPs 2 heal their patients quickly & causes an enormous financial waste, not to mention patients’ suffering );
-access online to patient’s own medical records, where the details could be amended easily & verified if they r up 2 date by any patient

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johnboy1950 said on 11 November 2010

I went to the local endoscopy unit for a colonoscopy and ended up with a perforated bowell,spending 2 days in ICU and 4 days on the ward,although the did tell me that it could happen,it was highly unlikely that it would.I sent a letter of complaint into the hospital and after approx 6 weeks had a reply stating that the colonoscopy was successful,how can the say that after the perforated bowell.I am unable to work after having an ilioscopy (stoma fitted) and waiting for a date for the reversal.I feel very angry that it seems to be swept under the carpet.

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yasasii said on 05 November 2010

admitted to derriford hospital following a recent heart attack.Doctor forced an injection into my stomach against my wishes ,telling me I had no choice.
Following day I was made to have a ct scan again against my wishes.
I was not allowed home until I agreed to have an angiogram done , I did not want to but had to agree in order to go home.
I felt a prisoner and it should be a disgrace that these Doctors did not need consent to do these things.

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snugglyhunny said on 03 November 2010

I got advised by my nurse & a doctor to go on the depo jab. i was 18 years old, this was because after 3 years of trying to convince my neurologist that my epileptic fits were due to hormones (fell pregnant-got epiliepsy. had periods - had fits) it was finally decided the depo jab was my only choice that wouldnt confuse my epilepsy drugs. when i went for the first jab i got told it can be given either in my bum or arm. That was it. no leaflet, no other words of warning, just that & a card saying my next due jab date. im now coming up to jab number 3, have experienced many changes & have had to look on the internet for information of many of my symptoms. & i thought the internet was the worst place to look for medical help...its done more for me than what my doctors & nurses have!!

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shugs101 said on 15 October 2010

hi i went to a clinic in chesterfield to have my contraceptive implant removed the dr injected my arm to numb it but didnt check to see if had worked n before i knew it she had already cut me we the scalpel when i screamed her reply was it usually had numbed by now i even felt her inject me again

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summerlove said on 06 October 2010

I have a quetion that I had checked my body since i just registered NHS health centre. The sample of urine was sent to get further check. I want to know whether it's free or not. Thanks.

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User491983 said on 05 October 2010

To all who have made comments, please use the service of ICAS. We are independent of the NHS and support anyone who feels that the need help in making a complaint. The service is free and confidential; we can help you with written letters, attend meetings etc. If you are unhappy, following the formal complaint route is welcomed by the NHS so that changes can be made and issues addressed so that things don't happen again. See the details above for ICAS in your areas.

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Mr Michael said on 05 October 2010

Please allow me to vent my anger.

Early hours of the morning my partner was throwing up and had severe rib pains.
when she asked me for a doctor I phoned the out of hours service. the person who answered clearly did not care in the slightest. After she gave her details and it was clear she was staying with me (not living with me) he just said "you're phoning the wrong need to phone through your GP."

I highly doubt a doctor would travel the best part of an hour out to my house just because she is registered with them.

Now I don't know how Out of Hours is supposed to work. maybe she SHOULD have phoned HER GP. But his attitude was very un helpful. and what is to stop him from giving over the phone advice..if for nothing but to learn how to cope with the situation whilst we wait for another doctor?

NHS...sort yourself out.

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tinalynam said on 02 October 2010

My son who is 8 years who ahs been suffering for over 18 month with his breathing and sore throats. After countless trips to see the doctor they agreed he should go see the ENT consultant. ENT agrred he needed an Adenoidectomy. This was booked for for the first week of September this year. We prepared him the best we could for the operation but unfortunatly we recieved a phone call the night before saying it had been cancelled. Our son took it well but we were emotionally tired just though the build up. We were given a new date, two week after. Again we prepared him and this time he was scared, he stopped eating in the day leading up the op. We arrived at Pinderfields hospital on theh morning, he was ready for theatre. My son how at that was had tears running down his eyes the whole time we were there, the poor lad was scared. The doctor came down and said a filter had broken and the operation was cancelled. We were told to go home. AGAIN we have been given another appointment for this Monday. My son isnt eating he has started to wet the bed agian and he has been having nightmares. I came home form workk Friday to find a message on the answer phone " I am sorry to inform you there is a problem in theatre and your operation has been cancelled for Monday". I am at my wits ends. I have used 3 days holiday and i do work for a living. I have cried, my son is still not eating, even school have said he doesnt look well. I have to wait until Monday now, another holiday day used. I cant see me ever getting him their. I have contacted my local MP. Not sure what o can do now.

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oojimmyflip said on 24 September 2010

I am having an ulcer redressed every few days on my leg, where I go for treatment the nurses dab a bit of gauze in some saline and rub the inside of the wound then re-dress the infected wound which is extreeemly painful and leaves you reeling in pain for days.
A friend just six miles up the road has a similar condition his nurses bathe his leg in a bucket of salt water be as gentle as possible drying the area with a sterile towel apply special cream to his leg then re-apply a new dressing, my leg ulcers do not heal for up to five years attending my own surgery, I attended his surgery as a temp resident once for two weeks and my ulcer that I had for three years healed up in two weeks, somehow I think I am living in a postcode lottery I sked NHS direct for info relating to the treatment of leg ulcers and they said they couldnt comment what a waistef time they are the sooner they get rid the better. I cannot get a difinative answer to the correct treatment of a leg ulcer, they use expesive dressings others will cut corners in order to save money at the cost of your health, there really needs to be a standardised level of treatment set up for legs ulcer treatment right across the board, I got a second opinion from a nursing manager that rubbed a few noses up the wrong way she was happy with the self administered treatment I was doing at home cleanning my own wound properly, my surgery wouldnt writwe prescriptions for the expensive dressings even though I was prepared to pay the £80.00 for five dressings myself the nursing manager told them to prescribe the dressings and as soon as her back was turned they refused to write any prescriptions for the dressings.they are gambling with our health if you have a good service you afre very lucky indeed.

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User487902 said on 17 September 2010

choosing a gp is not as they say, you can ask any in your area only to be told you are not in their catchment area. I dont want the one that is in "my catchment area" so how do I get the one I want to register me

I take it this information if only a nhs fairytale. I want to know when it will become legal so I can have my true choice

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Andy70 said on 10 September 2010

Over the last 4 years I've sufferd almost constant ear, nose, throat, mouth and skin infections, mainly on the right side of my head. Sometimes this would be so bad, lasting weeks at a time, that I was in total despair. I attended my surgery almost two dozen times in the last three years, and have had to go to casualty twice when my jaw became swollen and I developed a fever. I have had to see five different gp's at my surgery, and each one has had different opinions and prescribed different medication. Finally, after a visit to a Dermatologist I was diagnosed with a deep seated and long term jaw infection. I now need surgery to remove the infected bone, and will lose several teeth. had I been taken seriously and treated copetently in the first place it would not have got this bad. I have been through the complaints procedures and it's a joke. There are more get out clauses and loopholes than it's possible to list.

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efremova said on 02 September 2010

So many above echo my feelings too. It's mainly the apathetic staffing of GP Practices. I've considered a more permanent solution as I teach 65.

Have no expectations - how true ....

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Tyler Acerman said on 27 August 2010

I've been waiting to long for a mold for my bracies (2 years) I've been called up once and the opointment got canceld

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diamond lilly said on 31 December 2009

my g.p. surgery is a disgrace u cant get through on phone to 8.55 then appts have gone and u r blantely lied to ...u have to be there 8.30 outside pensioners ever one else.the check in machine never goes by now should have binned it.yr perscriptions left chemist for repeat never done so u have to go bk surgery to get it signed so whats point repeat perscription.the staff are so rude they talk amongst themself while u r standing like a fool.the practice manager walks around in a trance i complained to him but referred my letter to my doctor who had it underlined on my appt and addressed me about it whats role practice manager bad business practice.was told my letter would be held on file was told by health authority this was not allowed.more say next visit to my laptop this is just start..........then theres king georges hosp on top..........

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mike mandry said on 21 December 2009

My Wife had a headache on july 24th with slurred speech and unbalanced stance, one pupil was larger than other and Lymph glands were enlarged. Gp said on four occaisions due to stress. when we paid privately to see consultant that was being denied to my wife she was in hospital instantly and two hours later I knew the worst she had walking death cancer and now i am being denied treatment for some illness which will not go away suffering for 5 weeks and doctors do not know what is wrong, disgusted

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breath and wait said on 14 December 2009

I complained via email two weeks ago- still haven't heard anything, not even an email to acknowledge my complaint had been received. If they had ever taken the trouble to investigate or to find out the feedback they say is so helpful then my case will surely have plenty of examples.

The 'care' I've received has been horrific either not enough nurses or too many nurses and no space. You arrive at an appointment early; they turn up late and finish early. You take the trouble to go and then they say nothing they can do but say worth getting a second opinion and wasting more time to go back.

There is no cohesion in the treatment- I'm seeing 3 physios at the moment (out of a total of five since I started treatment) and they all say different things. They don't listen and worst of all after two months I've heard various accounts of what exactly happened during my operation not all of which make sense and nothing definite- well apart from the fact my knee is a mess.

Oh and that the anaesthetist needed to get off for a glass of wine and the surgeon had already left... A nurse brought a copy of my notes the day after surgery but the nurse didn't know what had happened any more than I did. The day I arrived for surgery the physio prescribed exercises for the wrong operation. Non of the various people who have subsequently showed me the notes could explain the different versions, unsurprisingly I'm still waiting for news on a copy...

Moral of the story- don't hold your breath if your complaining or expecting any kind of standard in treatment. Maybe there should be something about managing 'customer' expectations- i.e. don't have any and you may be pleasantly surprised.

On the plus side, even with all the press about a shortage of NHS dentists and even though I don't have one I was given an emergency appointment on the day and was given excellent treatment to keep me going and free from pain.

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Last reviewed: 25/08/2010

Next review due: 24/08/2012

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