Complaints about the NHS or social services

This section is about making a complaint about the NHS or social services. It explains how you can make a complaint and what support you can get.

Overview

  • You have to make your complaint within 12 months of the problem. Sometimes you can complain later than this.
  • A complaints advocacy service might be able to help with your complaint.
  • The NHS or social services will let you know when they get your complaint. They should do this within 3 days.
  • Once the service has looked into your complaint, they will give you a full response.
  • If you are unhappy with the response, you can take your complaint to an independent service. This is called the ‘Ombudsman’ service (pronounced 'om-buds-mun'). They will look into things further.
  • A complaint may not be the right option for you. This will depend on what you are trying to achieve as an outcome.

Before raising a complaint

Is a complaint the right option for me?

This section may help you if you want to make a complaint about:

  • your GP,
  • your mental health team,
  • your psychiatrist,
  • your care coordinator,
  • your local authority's social services department,
  • local mental health services, such as a crisis team, or
  • hospital treatment.

You can make a complaint if you are unhappy with a service you have used. You might feel that a service:

  • has not treated you with respect,
  • gave you the wrong care or treatment,
  • did not help quickly enough,
  • did not do enough to help you, or
  • was taken away sooner than it should have been.

Your complaint could help make things better for you or other people in the future.

You may worry that you will lose out if you complain. You might worry the NHS or social services won’t support you anymore. Or that staff will treat you differently. This should not happen, don't let this put you off.

What else can I do to try to sort the issue?

Complaints can be effective, but before you complain you could try and sort the issue informally. This is often the quickest way to sort issues. You could:

  • talk to service staff to see if they can help, or
  • get in touch with your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) if your complaint is about the NHS. They can sometimes sort issues without needing to go through the formal complaints’ procedure.

You will need to explain:

  • what you are unhappy about,
  • what effect it has had on you,
  • what you have tried to do to sort the problem, and
  • what you would like as an outcome.

What I want can’t be sorted through the NHS or social care complaints procedure. What do I do?

What you are trying to achieve will depend on the most appropriate place to report your issue. Below is a list of other things that you may want to try.

  • Get legal advice.
  • Take the service to court. See Section 12 for more information
  • Complain to a professional regulator if a member of staff has behaved unprofessionally. See Section 11 for more information.
  • Complain to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) if your complaint is about the way NHS staff have used the Mental Health Act. There is more information on this further down the page.

You can find more information about ‘Legal advice’ by clicking here.

What information should I write in my complaint?

When you make a complaint, you should include the following things.

  • Which service are you complaining about?
  • What problem are you complaining about?
  • When did it happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Who was involved?
  • Did anyone see what happened?
  • What was said and done?
  • Did you get hurt or any of your things get damaged?
  • What effect has it had on your mental health?
  • What do you expect the outcome of your complaint to be?

Is there a time limit?

You have to make your complaint within a year to the NHS or social services. The 12 months will begin:

  • from the date your problem started, or
  • when you found out about the problem.

If you don’t want to complain straight away make a note of the date the problem started. Don’t miss the deadline.

Late complaints

The sooner you make the complaint the easier it will be for the service to investigate it. But if you can't do this, you can sometimes complain after 12 months have passed.

The NHS or social services will accept a late complaint if:

  • it is still possible to investigate your complaint fairly, and
  • you have good reasons for it being late.

The complaints manager will decide if they will accept a late complaint. Being very unwell could be a good reason for making a late complaint.

How and to who should you complain?

How do I complain?

You can make your complaint to a member of staff:

  • in person,
  • by telephone
  • by writing a letter or
  • by writing an email

You may be able to make an online complaint through Resolver. There is more information about Resolver below.

Some services might have an online form you can use on their website.

How do I complain in person or by telephone?

If you make your complaint face-to-face or by phone, be clear that you want to make a complaint.

The staff member you speak to will make a written record of your complaint. They will give you a copy of this record. You should make a note of:

  • who you spoke to,
  • what you talked about, and
  • the date and time of the conversation.

How do I complain in writing?

If you make a complaint by letter or email, make sure that it is clearly marked with the word 'complaint'. Make sure you explain:

• what has happened,
• why you are not happy, and
• what you would like to happen next.

See the above section for more information about to write in your complaint.

There are sample complaints letters you can use on our factsheet. Click on the link at the top of this page to view.

If you send a letter, make sure that you keep a copy of it for your records. You might find it helpful to send it by recorded delivery so that you can prove that you sent it.

How do I use Resolver?

If you want to complain online, you can use Resolver. Resolver is a free online tool that helps you through the complaints process. The website link for Resolver is below. You won’t be able to make all complaints through resolver, but you will be able to make a complaint about your local authority or an NHS hospital.

Website: www.resolver.co.uk

Who do I complain to about the NHS?

You can complain to:

  • the service you had problems with, or
  • your local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) or NHS England.

You can’t complain to both the service and the CCG or NHS England about the same issue.

But you may be able to make a complaint directly to the CCG or NHS England about the same issue if the service has not dealt with your complaint in a reasonable time.

What is the CCG and NHS England?

Your local CCG and NHS England commission certain services.

Your CCG will commission services such as the following.

  • Mental health teams
  • Community services such as your care coordinator
  • NHS 111
  • Hospitals and urgent care
  • Rehabilitation services

NHS England will commission services such as the following.

  • Your GP
  • Your local improving accessing to talking therapies (IAPT)
  • Your dentist
  • Your optician
  • Healthcare for prisoners
  • Healthcare for armed forces
  • Specialist services

Example 1

Ben is unhappy with his GP. He can complain to the GP surgery or to NHS England.

Example 2

Tracy is unhappy with her psychiatrist and care coordinator. She can complain to the service they work for or to the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

What do I do if I want to make a complaint about different NHS services at the same time?

If your complaint is about different teams, such as your GP, hospital and ambulance service. You’ll only need to make 1 complaint.

The organisation that receives your complaint will contact the other services involved.

How do I find my local CCG or NHS England?

CCG
Click the below website link to find your local CCG service.

www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Clinical-Commissioning-Group/LocationSearch/1

If you don’t have the internet you can the following people to find the information for you.

  • A health professional
  • Patient advisory and liaison service
  • Contact Rethink Mental Illness. Our details are at the top of this page.

NHS England
NHS England contact information is in the useful contact section of this section.

Make sure that you write, ‘For the attention of the complaints team’ in the subject line or at the top of your letter.

Who do I complain to about social care?

Your social care might be arranged by social services, or mental health services.

If the NHS arranges social services for you, you can complain to the NHS or your local authority.

How do I find out who my local authority is?

You can use an internet search to find out who your local authority is. Use the link below. You will need to type in your postcode.

Website: www.gov.uk/find-local-council

What do I do if I want to make a complaint about the NHS and social services at the same time?

You need to make 2 complaints. 1 to your local mental health team and 1 to social services. For example, you might want to complain about both your care coordinator and about problems with social care.

What will happen if I send my complaint to the wrong place?

Your complaint will still be dealt with if you send your complaint to the NHS instead of your local authority. Or your local authority instead of the NHS. But it will take longer to be dealt with.

The organisation that receives your complaint will let you know that they have it in 3 days. They will send your complaint to the correct place for it to be dealt with.

How do I complain about private social care providers?

You won’t be able to make a complaint to social services if you arrange and fund your own social care through:

  • your savings, or
  • through direct payments.

You will need to contact the provider. They will have their own complaints process which you will need to follow.

You will be able to take your complaint to the ombudsman if your complaint is not sorted.

You can find more information about ‘Direct Payments’ by clicking here.

Help

Who can help me make my complaint?

If you need help to make a complaint you can:

  • ask a friend or relative to help you to write it,
  • ask a friend or relative to make the complaint on your behalf,
  • contact an NHS complaints advocacy service,
  • get in touch with the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
  • contact a community advocacy service
  • contact your local citizens advice, or
  • contact your Member of Parliament (MP)

NHS complaints advocacy

NHS complaints advocacy is free to use and independent from the NHS. They can help you to make a complaint against the NHS.

How do I find an advocacy service?

Different organisations run advocacy services across England. Common advocacy services are:

  • SEAP
  • POhWER,
  • VoiceAbility

You could also try the following.

  • Use an internet search engine. Use search terms like ‘NHS complaints advocacy Leicestershire’ or ‘community mental health advocacy Devon’.
  • Ask a support worker or key worker, if you have one.
  • Ask a friend or family member to help you.
  • Contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service
  • Call or e-mail our advice service and we will look for you. Our contact details are on the back page of this factsheet.

Advocacy services may have a waiting list. You may not be able to get help straight away.

The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

PALS is an NHS service. They can:

  • help you to sort out your problems,
  • explain the NHS complaints procedure to you, and
  • tell you how to get help from an advocate

You can search for your local service by following the below website link:

www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Patient-advice-and-liaison-services-(PALS)/LocationSearch/363.

Community advocacy

There may be community advocacy services that can help you to make a complaint about your local authority. They are free to use. They don’t work for the NHS or social services.

They are sometimes called generic advocates. But they won’t exist in all areas of England.

Citizens Advice

Your local Citizen’s Advice may be able to help you complain.

You can find your local office at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ or call 08444 111 444.

Member of Parliament (MP)

You could ask your local MP to help you make a complaint.

You can find out who your local MP is by going to the website

www.findyourmp.parliament.uk/

Or you can contact the House of Commons Information Office on 020 7219 4272

You can find more information about ‘Advocacy’ by clicking here.

Once the complaint has been made

How should the service deal with my complaint?

The NHS or social services have 3 working days to let you know that they have received your complaint. They should do this by phone, face-to-face or in writing.

The service should:

  • look into your complaint as quickly as possible. This is called an 'investigation,'
  • keep you up to date during the investigation,
  • let you know the result of your complaint in writing, and
  • explain your right to take your complaint further to the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) or The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

The service will have a complaints policy. The policy will explain how they deal with complaints locally.

You might be able to find a copy on their website. Or you can ask a member of staff for a copy of the policy. Or you can make a freedom of information request.

You have a legal right to see information held by public organisation such as the NHS and local authority. You do this by making a freedom of information request.

You can find out more information about making a freedom of information request at:

www.gov.uk/make-a-freedom-of-information-request

How will the service investigate my complaint?

A complaints manager will deal with your complaint. If you have made a complaint about a certain person, that person will not deal with your complaint.

There is no set process for how professionals should investigate your complaint.

An NHS investigation might involve:

  • visiting the service,
  • looking at records,
  • interviewing staff members, or
  • getting specialist advice.

Social services will have a similar procedure for investigating complaints.

How long will I have to wait for a response?

There are no time limits. The law says that the service should investigate your complaint 'speedily and efficiently. The service might have its own targets. You can ask to see their complaints policy.

If the investigation takes more than 6 months, the service must:

  • write to you and tell you why it is taking a long time, and
  • let you know the result of your investigation as soon as possible

Local authority
The Local Government Ombudsman think it is reasonable for social services to respond to complaints within 12 weeks. If you have not received your complaint within 12 weeks and there isn’t a good reason for the delay, you may be able to take your complaint to the ombudsman. You can find out more about the ombudsman in the next section of this factsheet.

NHS
You can complain to the parliament health ombudsman if:

  • the NHS does not reply to your complaint in the time it said it would or
  • if you are running out of time to bring your complaint to the ombudsman.

How will I be treated if I complain?

You can:

  • expect to 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 offered the opportunity to discuss the complaint with a complaint’s manager, and
  • expect appropriate action to be taken following your complaint.

Can I complain again about the same issue?

If you have already made a complaint about the same issue, the service does not have to deal with your complaint. They will tell you in writing as soon as they can why they have decided not to deal with your complaint.

What if I am not happy with the response?

You can take your complaint to the ‘ombudsman’ if you are not happy with the outcome of your complaint. You must do this in writing.

An ombudsman is an independent body. This means they are separate from the NHS and social services.

The ombudsman will investigate and may make recommendations about what the outcome of your complaint should be.

Who will investigate my complaint about the NHS?

If your complaint is about the NHS, your complaint should go to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). They are free to use.

Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)
Makes final decisions about complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England.

Telephone: 0345 015 4033. Open 8.30am-5.30pm Monday-Thursday, 8:30am – 12 noon, Friday
Website: www.ombudsman.org.uk

Who will investigate my complaint about the local authority?

If your complaint is about social services, your complaint should go to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). They are free to use.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)
The final stage for complaints about social services and other local authority services.

Telephone: 0300 061 0614 (8:30am - 12:00pm Wednesday. 8.30am - 5pm other weekdays)
Email: you can fill in a complaint form through the website
Website: www.lgo.org.uk

Is there a time limit for sending my complaint to the ombudsman?

You should do this as soon as you can to make sure that the ombudsman can help. You must complain to the ombudsman within 12 months of the problem you are complaining about. The ombudsman may investigate complaints after this time if they think it is reasonable to do so.

You can’t usually make a complaint to the ombudsman until the NHS or local authority has given you a final response to your complaint. But you might be able to go straight to the ombudsman if the service will not look into your complaint without good reason. Look at the previous section for more information on this subject.

Can ‘Healthwatch’ help?

You can report concerns about the NHS or social care service to your local Healthwatch. There is a local Healthwatch in every area in England. They won’t resolve your complaint. But they have resources on their website to help you to make a complaint:

Website: www.healthwatch.co.uk/help-making-complaint

Why should I report my concerns to Healthwatch?

Your feedback can help to influence change to services. They are there to:

  • gather information from the public about what they like about services and what they think could be better,
  • provide information to the public about their options for accessing health and social care,
  • make the view and experiences of the public known to Healthwatch England, and
  • make recommendation to Healthwatch England to advise the CQC to carry our investigations into areas of concern.

Healthwatch England:

  • gives advice to the government, NHS England and local authorities about health and social care, and
  • escalate concerns to the care quality commission (CQC).

Find your local Healthwatch through the below link:

Website: www.healthwatch.co.uk/your-local-healthwatch/list

Staff, courts and the Mental Health Act

How can I complain about how staff have behaved?

You can:

  • use the complaints procedure, as outlined in this factsheet, or
  • report staff to a regulator for serious complaints.

All healthcare staff have to behave appropriately at work. If staff don't act appropriately it may be professional misconduct. Examples of professional misconduct might be if a staff member:

  • has a sexual relationship with someone who uses their service,
  • has lied about their qualifications,
  • breaks confidentiality without good reason,
  • deliberately puts false information on records, or
  • has put patients at serious risk of harm due to bad practice.

If you think that a professional is not safe to work with patients, you can complain to a professional regulator.

Professional regulators make sure that health and social care professionals do their job properly and safely.

If the regulator thinks that the staff member has acted inappropriately, they can stop them from working in that profession.

Professional regulators can't deal with less serious complaints. For example, they can’t:

  • explain what has happened to you,
  • tell a doctor to give you the treatment that you would like,
  • help you claim for compensation, or
  • tell a health professional to apologise.

Who is the regulator for doctors?

The General Medical Council (GMC) can deal with complaints about the serious misconduct of doctors.

General Medical Council
The professional regulator for doctors.

Telephone: 0161 923 6602 (Monday -Friday 8am-5:30pm, Saturday 9am5pm)
Email: gmc@gmc-uk.org
Website: www.gmc-uk.org

Who is the regulator for nurses?

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) can deal with complaints about the serious misconduct of nurses.

Nursing and Midwifery Council
The professional regulator for nurses and midwives.

Telephone: 020 7637 7181 (Monday-Friday 8am-5:45pm)
Email: newreferrals@nmc-uk.org
Website: www.nmc.org.uk

Who is the regulator for social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, art therapists and paramedics?

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) can deal with complaints about the serious misconduct of certain professionals such as:

  • social workers,
  • psychologists,
  • occupational therapists,
  • art therapists and
  • paramedics

Health and Care Professions Council
Regulates certain care professionals.

Telephone: 0300 500 6184 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 6pm)
Address: Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London, SE11 4BU
Email: registration@hcpc-uk.org
Website: www.hcpc-uk.co.uk

Can I take the service to court?

If you feel that the NHS and social services have treated you badly, you may decide to go to court to try to sort the problem.

We advise that you get legal advice as soon as possible.

A solicitor will help you to think about:

  • if you might win your court case,
  • if you can deal with the problems without taking the service to court, and
  • how much it will cost to take them to court.

You should think about:

  • how much the issue has affected you? and
  • how much stress taking them to court would cause you?

You may have to pay for advice from a solicitor. But you may be able to get free advice from your local Law Centre or disability rights service. You can find their contact information in the useful contacts section of this factsheet.

Can I claim compensation?

You can only claim compensation if you have been injured because of the negligence of the NHS or social services. This is called, ‘clinical negligence.’ To claim compensation, you will need to take legal action.

The court can’t:

  • discipline healthcare practitioners,
  • force a hospital or individual healthcare practitioner to change how they work or
  • make a healthcare practitioner say sorry.

You can find more information about ‘clinical negligence’ by clicking here.

Can I ask for a judicial review?

The NHS and social services must act within the law. If you feel they haven’t, a judge will look at the situation and decide if they acted legally. This is called 'judicial review'.

The NHS or social services may be acting unlawfully if they have made a decision or done something:

  • without the legal power to do so,
  • that was unreasonable,
  • that was unfair, or
  • in breach of European Community Law or the Human Rights Act.

If the court finds that the NHS or social services have acted unlawfully, it may do the following.

  • Issue a mandatory order. For example, an order to make the NHS or social service do something.
  • Issue a prohibiting order. For example, an order to stop the NHS or social services from doing something.
  • Issue a quashing order. For example, an order to reject the NHS or social services’ decision.
  • Make a declaration.
  • Award damages.

For example, if you think that social services have waited too long before helping you, you could ask for judicial review.

You need to act quickly if you want to ask for a judicial review. You have 3 months to ask for this. The judge might not accept your claim unless you make it as soon as you can.

Does it cost money to make a judicial review?

A judicial review can be very expensive. You may be able to get support if you claim benefits.

If you win your case, you may be able to claim back court costs. But if you lose your case you may have to pay the NHS or social services court costs.

Always get legal advice before making a judicial review.

You can find more information about ‘Legal advice’ by clicking here.

Can I complain about how the NHS used the Mental Health Act?

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulate how the Mental Health Act is used. They will protect your rights if you are detained under the Mental Health Act. They can look at complaints from you if you are, or have been:

  • detained in hospital
  • under a community treatment order, or
  • under guardianship.

You should complain to the hospital before you complain to the CQC.

You can complain to the CQC if you feel that the Mental Health Act wasn’t used properly. For example, if:

  • professionals didn’t follow the right procedure when they detained you in hospital,
  • you weren’t given information about your rights,
  • you weren’t offered section 17 leave when you should’ve been,
  • you were not involved with decisions about your care,
  • you were restrained when you shouldn’t have been,
  • you were kept you away from other patients when they shouldn’t have been, or
  • the hospital didn’t plan your discharge properly.

The CQC can’t deal with complaints:

  • that happened over 1 year ago,
  • that are already being investigated by the police or solicitor,
  • about the treatments you are given that you don’t want, if the Mental health Act allows them to be given.

Care Quality Commission
Monitors, inspects and regulates health and social care services.

Telephone: 03000 616161 press 1 to speak to mental health team
Address: CQC Mental Health Act, Citygate, Gallowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4PA
Email: enquiries@cqc.org.uk
Website: www.cqc.org.uk

You can find out more information about:

• Mental Health Act by clicking here.
• Discharge from the Mental Health Act by clicking here.

Carer's, friends and family

Can I complain if I am a carer, friend or relative?

You can help a loved one to complain if they want you to.

You could do the following things.

  • Give them information about how the complaints process works.
  • Explain to your loved one how the complaints process works.
  • Help them to write their complaint.
  • Find out who to send the complaint to.
  • Help to monitor progress of the complaint.

Can I complain on my relative or friend’s behalf?

If you are a carer, friend or relative you can make a complaint on someone else's behalf if:

  • the person you care for has asked you to make a complaint for them, or
  • the person you care for can’t make decisions about making a complaint. This is called lacking mental capacity.

Get evidence if the person you support has asked you to complain. It is best if they put something in writing, either by letter or email.

Can I complain about something that has affected me?

If a decision affects you as a carer, you can make your own complaint. For example, you might live with the person you care for. If they don’t get the right treatment it may mean that you have to give them more support.

You could make a complaint if social services have refused to do a carer's assessment for you. You can find out more information about:

  • Mental capacity and mental illness by clicking here.
  • Carers assessment by clicking here.

Useful Contacts

NHS England
NHS commission services such as your GP, and healthcare for prisoners. You will need to contact them if you want to make a complaint about these services.

By telephone: 0300 311 22 33. Open Wednesday 9:30am – 6pm. Other weekdays 8am – 6pm.
Address: NHS England, PO Box 16738, Redditch, B97 9PT
Email: England.contactus@nhs.net
Website: www.england.nhs.uk

Civil Legal Advice
Offers free, confidential and independent legal advice for residents of England and Wales.

Telephone: 0845 345 4 345 Open Monday to Friday 9am-8pm and Saturday9am-12:30pm)
Search for a legal adviser: www.find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk/
Website: www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice

Disability Law Service
They give free legal advice to people with disabilities and their carers to ensure that they have access to their rights and justice.

Telephone: 0207 791 9800. Open Monday to Friday 10am – 5pm. Closed between 1pm and 2pm)
E-mail: advice@dls.org.uk
Website: www.dls.org.uk

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