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Hospital complaints procedures

If you are dissatisfied with the care you have received from the NHS you can make a complaint, have it considered and get a reply from the NHS Hospital or Primary Care Practitioner concerned.  The complaints procedure below applies to the NHS in England, except for NHS Foundation Trusts.

A Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) has been set up in each NHS Trust and Primary Care Trust.  PALS aren’t intended to be a part of the complaints procedure itself.  They may be able to resolve your concerns informally or they can tell you more about the complaints procedure and Independent Complaints Advocacy Services (ICAS).

Local resolution

The NHS complaints procedure covers complaints made by a person about any matter connected within the provision of NHS services by NHS organisations or primary care practitioners such as GPs or dentists, opticians and pharmacists.  The procedure also covers services provided overseas or by the private sector where the NHS has paid for them.

Who can complain?

A complaint can be made by a patient or person affected or likely to be affected by the actions or decisions of an NHS organisation or primary care practitioner. A complaint can also be made by someone acting on behalf of the patient or person, with their consent.

What is the time limit for making a complaint?

You should normally complain within 12 months of the date of the event that you're complaining about, or as soon as the matter first came to your attention. Primary care practitioners and complaints managers in NHS organisations can sometimes extend the time limit for complaining if there are good reasons for not complaining sooner, for example, if you were grieving or undergoing treatment.

To whom should I complain initially?

The first stage of the NHS complaints procedure is “local resolution”.  Your complaint should be made in the first instance to the organisation or primary care practitioner providing the service. Local resolution aims to resolve complaints quickly and as close to the source of the complaint as possible using the most appropriate means, for example use of conciliation.

You can raise your concerns immediately by speaking to a member of staff (eg, doctor, nurse, dentist, GP or practice manager) or someone else, eg the PALS.  They may be able to resolve your concerns without the need to make a more formal complaint.

However, if you do want to continue your complaint, you can do this orally or by writing (including email) to the primary care practitioner or the NHS organisation concerned.  If you make your complaint orally, a written record should be made by the complaints manager.

You should receive a response from a primary care practitioner within 10 working days or from the Chief Executive of the NHS organisation concerned within 20 working days.  You should be kept informed of progress if this is not going to happen.

NHS Foundation Trusts

NHS Foundation Trusts will have their own systems for the internally handling of complaints, which may differ from the “local resolution” process described here.  If you have a complaint about an NHS Foundation Trust, you should contact if for advice on how to make your complaint.  The “independent review” stage carried out by the healthcare commission does apply to NHS Foundation Trusts, which are also covered by the Health Service Ombudsman.

If you are unhappy with the response to your complaint, including a complaint about an NHS Foundation Trust, you can ask the Care Quality Commission for an “independent review” of your case.  The Healthcare Commission is an independent body established to promote improvements in healthcare. You can contact the Commission at:

Telephone: 03000 616161
Fax: 03000 616171

Opening hours are Monday to Friday, between 8.30am and 5:30pm.

CQC National Customer Service Centre
Newcastle upon Tyne

Online enquiry form

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

If you remain unhappy after local resolution and independent review then you can complain to the Health Service Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman is completely independent of the NHS and government.  You can contact the Ombudsman at:

Millbank Tower
London SW1P 4QP
Tel: 0845-0154033
Email: ohsc.inquiries@ombudsman.org.uk

Where can I get further advice and help?

The PALS or complaints manager at the NHS organisation you are complaining about can provide advice including about local independent complaints advocacy services.  Your local Primary Care Trust also advise if you have a complaint about a primary care practitioner.


  • The Independent Complaints Service (ICAS) provides advice and support to people who want to complain about the NHS. 
  • Call NHS Direct on 0845-4647 or your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

    The Independent Complaints Advocacy Service

The Independent Complaints Advocacy Service is a free, impartial and independent service for people who wish to make a formal complaint about the National Health Service.  ICAS can help clients identify the options for taking forward their complaints about NHS Services and make sure lesson from users’ experience of the NHS are fed back into the service and to those responsible for scrutinising the NHS.

ICAS cannot help with complaints about private healthcare treatment or services that arise outside of the NHS, assist clients who want to or who are already involved in litigation concerning a complaint about NHS services, directly investigate complaints or discipline or dismiss NHS staff.


Contacting ICAS

Contact details for NHS complaints
Citizens Advice North East 0845 120 3732
Citizens Advice Yorkshire and Humberside 0845 120 3734
Citizens Advice North West 0845 120 3735
Citizens Advice West Midlands 0845 120 3748
Citizens Advice South West 0845 120 3782
Citizens Advice London 0845 120 3784
POhWER Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire 0845 456 1082
POhWER Essex 0845 456 1083
POhWER Cambridge, Norfolk & Suffolk 0845 456 1084
SEAP South East 0845 600 8616
Carers Federation East Midlands 0845 650 0088


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