NHS Complaints Procedure: A Brief Guide

11 March 2022

Although the vast majority of patients within the NHS have a positive experience, between 1st April 2021 and 30th September 2021 there were a total of 54,335 written complaints made about care and treatment received across the whole of the NHS.

The NHS complaints procedure sets out the process for making complaints about NHS care and treatment.

Every NHS organisation is obliged to have a comprehensive complaints procedure, which allows patients and their families to raise any concerns they may have over their treatment. 

How and when to complain? 

The short answer? As soon as possible. In order to obtain an adequate and thorough response from the Trust involved, making a complaint sooner rather than later is always advantageous. 
The complaint will be handled by the individual body who the complaint may be about i.e. GP Surgery or NHS Trust. Details of how to complain are available through their respective websites or can be obtained by calling the main switchboard or practice contact number. 
Most health organisations have a time limit of a year from the point that the treatment took place or from when you became aware of potential issues with your treatment, to make a complaint.  

How to start a complaint  and what information should be included?  

A complaint can be made via telephone, in person, or in writing (either email or written letter). However, best practice would indicate that making a complaint in writing will ensure all of your queries are dealt with. 

When making any complaint it is important to include the main concerns you have about your treatment and to be concise as possible without losing the important information that needs to be considered. It is best to limit a complaint to two sides of A4 if at all possible. Along with the essential information such as full name, address and date of birth, it is also useful to include any relevant dates and names of those who were involved in the care/treatment you received.  

It is also best to include a list of focused questions that you would like the organisation to answer to ensure that the response received answers all of your concerns. Numbering or bullet pointing the questions will ensure that you get an answer to each of your questions.

What can I expect if I complain?

You should;

Have your complaint acknowledged within 14 days and properly looked into
be kept informed of progress and told the outcome
be treated fairly, politely and with respect
be reassured that your care and treatment will not be affected as a result of making a complaint
be provided with a full written response
be offered the opportunity to discuss the complaint with a complaints manager
expect appropriate action to be taken following your complaint

Not happy with the outcome?

If your problem persists or you're not happy with the way your complaint has been dealt with locally, you can complain to the relevant ombudsman, or seek independent legal advice. 

It is important to bear in mind that the NHS complaints procedure does not provide financial compensation. Therefore, in order to obtain financial compensation you will need to seek advice  from a suitably qualified medical negligence lawyer. 

Birmingham based clinical negligence paralegal, Daniel Morgan, comments as follows: “Many of my clients came to Shoosmiths after having their complaint dealt with through the NHS internal complaints procedure. Sometimes clients find that the formal NHS response was not satisfactory in adequately addressing their concerns, or as a result of the care received, they wish to seek financial compensation.  

A recent case example is a claim where I was approached by the children of a man  who had sadly passed away, fairly soon after being admitted to hospital with stomach pain. After his death  the Hospital involved performed an internal investigation which identified various failings in his care, and this was then communicated to the family. After considering the Hospital’s response, the family felt that they were not provided with a satisfactory explanation of the consequences of the failings identified. As a result, they approached Shoosmiths and as part of the investigations into the claim, his family were given more detailed answers as to the consequences of the failings in their father’s care, importantly what difference those failings made to the outcome.  



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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