1. Introduction
  2. The three stages of complaints
  3. What to include
  4. Who to contact for formal complaints
  5. Professional bodies
  6. What if I am still unhappy?
  7. More information
  8. Tell us if the information on this page helped you
  9. Contact us


Sometimes things go wrong when you receive health services. 

If that happens, you need to know how to raise a concern or make a complaint. This information sets out your rights and offers guidance on how to make a complaint. 

As a patient, the NHS Constitution guarantees your right to complain. 

If you have paid for your healthcare, then the hospital or the clinic where you received your care, whether delivered in the independent sector or NHS, will follow a complaints system set out by the regulator. 

You can complain or raise a concern if you are unhappy with care you have received. As well as providing you with answers, complaints and concerns are important to healthcare providers. They help them learn how to improve. 

How quickly should I complain after my care?

It depends on the type of complaint. 

Try to submit your NHS complaint as soon as possible. Complaints should be made within 12 months. This time limit can sometimes be extended but only if it still possible to investigate the complaint. 

Private healthcare providers have different rules. Check how the complaints system works for the hospital or clinic where you were treated. 

Can I get help to make a complaint?

Yes. You can contact your local HealthWatch team via or NHS Complaints Advocacy. Alternatively, you can contact an advocacy group, such as POhWER (, to help you make a complaint. 

In Scotland,Patient Advice & Support Service (PASS) can help - In Wales, for information and support its Llais - In Northern Ireland, the Patient and Client Council can help with complaints 

What to expect

When you make a complaint to a healthcare provider, you should: 

  • Be treated with respect and politeness 

  • Receive help to understand the process or advice on where to get help 

  • Receive a suitable reply without unnecessary delay 

  • Be told what decision has been made about your complaint 

  • Be told what has been done to improve services as a result. 

Choices you have when making a complaint 

Choice1 – raising a concern 

If you are comfortable doing so, you can raise your concern informally with someone at the organisation where you received the care you want to complain about before you make a formal complaint. Raising a concern is often done verbally. For example, if you are unhappy about the way you were treated by the receptionist at your general practice, speak to the practice manager first about your concerns. The practice manager may be able to deal with the problem straight away. 

If your complaint is about a hospital, contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) team. In some NHS Trusts, PALS may be part of the Patient Experience Team. You can find contact details for PALS on the hospital’s website. 

For further information on who to speak to call our free helpline on 0800 345 7115. 

Choice 2 – making a complaint 

All healthcare providers have a complaint policy. Ask to see a copy and for details of how to complain. Everyone who provides an NHS service in England must have their own complaints procedure. Generally, hospitals will have an email address or specific department to direct written complaints. Look on their website for details or call the switch board. 

We have template letters you can download and use to help you make your complaint: For GP complaints; For hospital complaints. 

Choice 3 – contacting the Ombudsman 

If you are unsatisfied with the reply to your formal complaint, you can contact the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). The PHSO is an independent complaint handling service for complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England. The PHSO does not deal with complaints involving the private sector. 

An ombudsman is a person who has been appointed to investigate complaints about companies and organisations. Details of which Ombudsman to contact are in the section below titled Who to contact for formal complaints. 

However, the Ombudsman will only consider your complaint if the healthcare provider has provided a response to your complaint. If there has been a long delay hearing from the healthcare provider you have made a complaint about, contact the Ombudsman’s office to explain. The PHSO may accept your complaint without a response because of the delay. Ordinarily, for the PHSO to investigate you need to submit your complaint within 12 months from the point at which you became aware you had something to complain about.  

What to include in your complaint

Basic information 

  • Patient’s name and date of birth 

  • Their NHS number if you have it 

  • What happened 

  • Where the events took place 

  • When the event(s) happened, including the date and time if you have them 

  • Who was involved 

  • Why you are unhappy with the event(s) that occurred  

  • If anyone saw what happened. 

Say what you want to happen 

Healthcare providers need to know when things go wrong and how services can be improved from the patient’s point of view. Saying what you want to happen as a result of your complaint can mean the complaint is handled more effectively. You can ask for a specific result when you complain. This could include staff training, an apology, recognition that your care wasn’t good enough, or a meeting to discuss your concerns. 

Medical records

If you think it would be helpful, you can get a copy of your medical records. They can provide evidence to back up your complaint. 

You have a legal right to see your records. See our Seeing medical records leaflet or call our free helpline on 0800 345 7115 for more information. 

Top tips

  • Keep a note of what happened and when 

  • Make letters short, to the point and polite 

  • Be clear on the outcomes you expect 

  • If your provider asks questions, try to respond as quickly as you can 

  • Talk to your loved ones, who will be able to help you decide what you want to achieve and help you cope with any distress. 

Who to contact for formal complaints

Below is a list of who to contact to make a formal complaint at each type of service.

Service providers

  • GP surgery – the practice manager. If your complaint is about the manager, tell your GP or GP partner (a GP who also owns part of the practice) so someone else knows you are complaining. But be aware; if you make a formal complaint to your general practice, you will not be able to ask your local integrated care board (ICB) to consider the same complaint if you’re unhappy with how your practice handles your complaint. This applies to complaints made about hospitals too 

  • NHS hospitals – details of how to contact the complaints department will be on the hospital’s website. Additionally, staff within the hospital will be able to instruct you on how to make a complaint if you do not have access to the internet or a computer. 

  • Commissioners of services – in England your ICB commissions primary care services such as GPs and dentists and secondary care, such as hospital care, mental health services, out-of-hours services, NHS 111, and community services district nursing. Find your local integrated care board (ICB). For healthcare in prison, military health services, and specialised services that support people with a range of rare and complex conditions, the commissioner is NHS England. 

  • Private hospitals – the manager of the service; this information will be on the hospital or unit’s website. 

  • Care homes – the director or manager. If any of the fees are paid by the council or NHS, you can also contact the council. Social services – complaints will be handled by the local council. Follow its complaints procedure and copy in the chief executive and your local councillor Find your local council on GOV.UK. 

Complaints about care in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

For information about complaints in Wales visit 

For complaints about NHS services in Scotland visit 

To find out how to make a complaint in Northern Ireland visit 


The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. It does not handle individual complaints but is keen to hear patients’ and carers’ concerns about the care received. 

Visit or call 03000 616161. 

The Patients Association partners with the CQC to gather feedback from people who contact our free helpline about their experiences of care through the ‘Tell us about your care’ partnerships. 

Organisations that regulate healthcare professionals

The following professional bodies can help if you believe someone is: 

  • Putting patient safety at risk 

  • Not meeting professional standards. 

General Medical Council

Investigates complaints about doctors for up to five years after the event. It can: 

  • Stop or limit a doctor’s licence to work in the UK 

  • Post a warning on a doctor’s record for up to five years. 


It cannot: 

  • Pay compensation or make a doctor pay a fine 

  • Force a doctor to apologise or give you the treatment you want. 


Address: General Medical Council, Regent’s Place, 350 Euston Road, London, NW1 3JN. 

Telephone: 0161 923 6602 Website: 

Nursing and Midwifery Council

Investigates complaints about nurses and midwives without a time limit. It can: 

  • Issue a one-year caution which future employers can see 

  • Suspend a nurse or midwife 

  • Remove someone from the professional register. 


Address: 23 Portland Place, London, W1B 1PZ. 

Telephone: 020 7637 7181 Website: 

Health and Care Professions Council

Investigates complaints about a wide range of professionals, including occupational therapists and paramedics. 

Address: Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4BU. 

Telephone: 0300 500 6184 Website: 

What if I am still unhappy?

If you are unhappy with the final response to your complaint these are the next steps you can take. 

Complaints about NHS funded healthcare 

You can complain free of charge to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). 

This should only be done once you have completed the full local complaints procedure. 

You should contact the Ombudsman as soon as possible after receiving your response. The PHSO may not investigate complaints received after more than 12 months. 

To find out more visit or call the helpline on 0345 015 4033. 

For Scotland: 

For Wales: 

For Northern Ireland: 

Complaints about adult social care 

Contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman. 

This can only be done once the provider has had a chance to respond to your complaint. 

To find out more visit or call 0300 061 0614. 

Legal action and compensation 

You can make an NHS complaint at the same time as taking legal action for compensation.  

Please be aware that if you want to bring legal action for injuries you have sustained as a result of medical negligence, there are strict time limits for doing so. Generally, this is three years from the date of ‘negligence but this is not always the case, so it is best to contact a solicitor as soon as you think you might want to go down this route. 

The Ombudsman will not investigate while legal action is taking place. 

If you are unhappy with an Ombudsman or professional body decision you can ask for a Judicial Review, however, this remedy is limited and very expensive. You are unlikely to be eligible for legal aid. 

The Law Society provides a list of lawyers who specialise in medical matters. 

Call 020 7320 5650 or visit 

Complaints about privately funded healthcare 

You can complain free of charge to the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service (ISCAS). 

This should only be if you have made a complaint, but not if you are raising concerns or contacting the ombudsman. 

You can only ask ISCAS to investigate if the provider (independent sector or NHS) subscribes to ISCAS. 

To find out more visit or contact on 020 7536 6091 or by email: [email protected] 

More information

Action against Medical Accidents – free independent advice and referral to independent solicitors – 0845 123 2352 or 

Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch – investigates a limited number of complaints a year which have the most potential to lead to significant improvements in healthcare – 

National Reporting and Learning System – a central database of patient safety incident reports – 

NHS Complaints Advocacy Service – local services to support you through the complaints process – 0300 303 1660. 

Patient and Client Council – help to complain about any part of health and social care in Northern Ireland – 0800 917 0222 

Llais – in Wales Llais advocacy staff provide free, independent, and confidential support to support a complaint 

Patients Advice and Support Service – free independent advice on NHS complaints in Scotland – 


The NHS Constitution is available online. 


Source material for the information contained in this leaflet is available on request. 

Did this information answer the questions you had? We hope so. You can help us improve our information by completing this short survey to give your opinions. We have other information you might find useful - you can find ourother leaflets here. 

If you still need help or information, our team might be able to help - details of how to contact them are below. 

We also have tips on making a complaint on our website, which you might find helpful also. We held a webinar on 24th October 2023 with the law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp that covered complaints and how to make them. You can watch a recording of the webinar.  

Find out more about us and the work we do. 

Contact the Patients Association helpline

Our helpline covers all of health and social care, and we would like to hear your experiences in the NHS and social care systems  

Our staff provide free and confidential information and guidance and are happy to answer your questions  

The helpline is open from 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and calls outside these times are returned as soon as possible during opening hours.  

If you would like to contact the helpline, please call free on 0800 345 7115, or visit the Patients Association helpline page on our website for more information.  

Page reviewed and updated April 2024; next update scheduled for February 2027.