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Making a complaint to a public health service provider

This page explains how to complain to a public health service provider if you’re unhappy with a treatment or service. If you’re getting healthcare from a privately-run clinic, you’ll need to contact it directly about the complaints procedure.

On this page:

If you’re caring for someone

If you’d like to make a complaint on behalf of the person you’re caring for, they’ll need to fill in a consent form naming you as an official representative. Ask your local healthcare service how to do this. If you don’t get written consent to complain on your family member or friend’s behalf, you won’t be given access to any information about the investigation.

If your relative or friend is unable to consent, you may want to apply to be their deputy at the Court of Protection. The Court will decide to appoint you as deputy, and if you’re appointed, you’ll then be able to act on behalf of your relative or friend.

Before you make a formal complaint

Many issues can be resolved quickly and informally. Try talking to a manager or senior member of staff at the local service about the problem:

  • If you’ve had a bad experience at your GP surgery, talk to the practice manager.
  • If you’re in a hospital, find out who’s in charge of the ward and speak to them.
  • Contact PALS (the Patient and Liaison Advice Service) - each hospital should have this service (see below).

It’s useful to think about the outcome you want before you talk to anyone:

  • Would you be satisfied with a sincere apology?
  • Would you like a member of staff disciplined?
  • Would you like the service changed so it doesn’t happen to someone else?

If you’re not sure who to talk to, ask your local patient advocacy service (details below). You should always make a note of:

  • who you spoke to
  • the dates you spoke to them
  • what was said, just in case your complaint isn’t resolved and you wish you make a formal complaint

Making a formal complaint

If you’ve tried talking to people informally without success, you might want to make a formal complaint. This should be done within a set timeframe, depending on where you live – see the links at the end of the page for procedures near you.

Make the complaint in writing, either to your local service or national board (see below for details), and include the following information:

  • How to contact you.
  • What happened and any attempts you made to resolve this informally.
  • The date and location of the incident.
  • The outcome you want.

You can only seek financial compensation in the first instance if you’re taking legal action (unless you’re in Wales – see local links below). However, if you escalate your complaint to the Ombudsman, it has the authority to suggest financial redress. Redress could mean financial compensation. You might also sometimes be able to get a small refund if your complaint is upheld, for example for parking or a day’s wages.

Some more general tips on making a complaint can be found on the NHS website   or the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s Complain for Change website  .

Making a complaint shouldn’t have a negative effect on the service you receive. Doctors and nurses will still have an obligation to provide the same care, but there’s a list of things to consider before complaining on the Citizens Advice website  .

Local resolution

Most public health complaints can be resolved locally, and there’s usually someone in charge of complaints. Your local service (eg GP surgery, dentist, hospital) should have its own policy for complaint handling. Ask to see this first. This process is usually required before making a complaint at the national level.

As with the informal procedure, consider what outcome you want and make this clear when you complain.

National complaints

If you’re not satisfied with the way your issue was dealt with at a local level, follow the procedures for your local area in the links below.

Other types of complaint

If you’d like to discuss whether you might have a claim for compensation because the way you or the person in your care has been treated, contact a solicitor specialising in medical negligence for advice. You could also talk to your local Citizens Advice or AvMA   (action against medical accidents), which is a UK charity for patient safety and justice.

The NHS Litigation Authority   (NHSLA) acts on behalf of the NHS in negligence claims. It can’t answer individual queries but its website has a useful overview of the process.

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