Solicitor with law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, Chris James offers tips and hints on how to go about making a complaint about healthcare you've received.

In addition to Chris's video, here's some tips from him on writing a letter of complaint. 

  1. Consider who the best person is to deal with your complaint. There are a number of options, so look at available resources – for example: the Patients Association’s “making a complaint” leaflet or the guidance offered by the NHS in relation to complaints. You may want to raise the complaint informally first, without labelling it as a ‘letter of complaint’, for example writing to say you have ‘concerns’. You will also generally have the option to complain to the healthcare provider themselves (for example, the GP practice or your treating hospital) or, if you are uncomfortable doing that, to the body overseeing the care (for example, NHS England).
  1. Think carefully about the important questions that you or the family want answered. The complaint process is probably the best opportunity for you to get answers or an explanation, so take your time. If more than one person has an interest in the complaint (such as, the rest of the family), it might be a good idea to have a discussion and make sure everyone’s concerns are included.
  1. It is hard to do but try to take the emotion out of what you write. You may well be very entitled to be angry and upset about what has happened, but it is unlikely to help your cause to write in that way. Try to stick to the facts, ask the questions and raise the concerns you have. You want to get empathy from whoever is reading it and directing anger at them (however justified it may be) is unlikely to achieve that.
  1. If you are considering bringing a clinical negligence claim, do not worry too much about ‘saying the wrong thing’ in a complaint letter or meeting. The two processes are entirely separate. It would be quite unusual for something said by a patient or family member to damage any later claim. If you are honest, there shouldn’t be a problem.
  1. Tips on setting out the letter clearly: the aim of any piece of writing is to make it as easy as possible for the reader to understand. If you are trying to persuade someone of something, make it as easy as possible for the person to come around to your point of view. Practical tips include:

State the date that the incident / issues that have occurred. 

Use headings to break up the detail. 

Use bullet points or numbers to separate your points (or questions). 

Try to keep only the most important bits in and ask the most important questions. Of course, include all important details, but perhaps think to yourself ‘does the reader need to know this to understand my complaint or answer my concerns’? 

Make your best point(s) first and ask your most important question(s) first. Don’t leave it to the end when people are less engaged. 

Be clear about the outcome(s) that you want. This could be an explanation of why something did or didn’t happen, an apology or proposals to ensure the same issue doesn’t happen again. 

Leave the letter to go cold for a few days and then come back to it. It is amazing what a fresh mind can see: things you have forgotten or parts you realise you don’t need or should reword.

Chris James, Solicitor, Bolt Burdon Kemp

Join us Chris and his colleague from Bolt Burdon Kemp Josh Hughes for a free online event on how to complain on 24th October. They will: help patients understand the NHS complaints process, describe how to make the most out of filing a complaint, and explain the distinction between poor service and a claim in negligence. 
Click on this link to register your free place.

Posted May 2023, scheduled for review May 2026.For more information on making complaints read our information
For information on how to get legal advice read this information
Bolt Burdon Kemp is one of the companies who support the Patients Association; you can see a full list of all the organisations that support us on our website. We are very grateful to our supporters who make the work we do possible.