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If you want to make a formal complaint about an NHS service, you should begin at a local level, usually with the organisation you are complaining about. This is called local resolution. 

Making your complaint

Formal complaints about the NHS are usually made in writing, but NHS providers should be able to listen to your complaint over the phone or in person. 

However you make your complaint, you’ll need to provide:

  • your name
  • a clear explanation of your complaint
  • any case referral numbers you’ve received which relate to your complaint

If you make your complaint via a phone call or meeting, the person you speak to should make a written record of your complaint, and share a copy of it with you. If you’re not given a copy of your complaint, ask for one so you can agree with what has been written and keep the written record of your complaint.

You should always make your complaint as soon as you can. One reason is that it’s often easier to investigate an issue which happened recently.


You are expected to make a complaint within the following timeline:

  • within twelve months of the incident happening
  • within twelve months of you realising that you have concerns

If you complain outside this timescale, the organisation you contact may still agree to look at the issue – for instance, if you were too ill to complain straight away.

Getting a response

You might get a quick response that resolves your issue. If that’s not possible, you should receive a verbal or written acknowledgement of your complaint within three working days. The NHS provider will usually offer to contact you to discuss your complaint. They will then agree with you a timescale for resolving the issues and keeping you updated. If the timescale needs to be extended, they will tell you. 

The timescale might be longer if:

  • they need to speak to several staff members
  • it takes a long time to access your medical records
  • several other organisations are involved in your complaint

They will then begin an investigation and send you a written response to your complaint, offering a resolution. They should offer you help to understand the process, or information about other organisations who could help you.

The person managing the complaint should send you a letter or email containing:

  • a summary of your complaint
  • what the investigation found
  • any actions that are going to be taken as a result
  • who is responsible for these actions
  • what to do if you’re still not happy

Depending on what you’re complaining about, the letter might also contain:

  • an apology
  • what steps have been taken to prevent the same thing happening to other people

The letter or email should:

  • be balanced, factual and impartial
  • address all the issues you raised
  • acknowledge the outcome you want
  • be clear and easy to understand

If you don’t receive a letter or email within the agreed timescale, you can phone, email or write to ask when you will receive it.

If you’re not satisfied with the response you get

You can phone or write to the person handling your complaint and explain why you’re still not happy.

You could also request a resolution meeting to talk about your complaint issue face to face. The person who gets your request should write or email to let you know whether they agree that there should be further investigation into your complaint. If they can’t offer you a meeting they should explain the reasons why.

If you are invited to meet staff to discuss the complaint, you can take a friend or relative to support you. The NHS may also offer a Conciliation and Mediation service. This means that someone neutral and independent will attend a confidential meeting with you and the NHS staff involved, to make sure everyone is able to express their views.

You have a statutory right to have an independent NHS complaints advocate attend complaints resolution meetings like this, if you feel you need one.

It’s useful, if possible, to bring to the meeting:

  • copies of any letters or emails between you and NHS England
  • a list of questions you want to ask