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How to Complain

How to Complain

This is often the bit we all really don’t like doing. It is always sad when things don’t turn out the way we want them to. Either the care we received or didn’t! Or the operation didn’t go as planned or wasn’t a success. Or the way we were treated, maybe our privacy not respected.

What to do first:

There are lots of ways to complain and it is probably best if you could do it straight away. If you are able to, talk the incident through with the named nurse or key worker. You are likely to be more successful if you come across as reasonable but firm; try to remain calm, acknowledge good treatment that you or your relative has received and recognise that everyone is busy and that misunderstandings happen. However, you need to be reassured that the situation/ incident will not re-occur.

If it is not possible to sort the problem at the time of the incident, keep brief notes. It is easy to forget details. These notes should include:

  • What incident occurred and when, including date and time
  • Who you spoke to and what their response was
  • Try to make the complaint specific - for example, you came in on three occasions and you noticed that medicine had been left in front of the patient untaken

If your problem is not resolved talk to the ward manager or the senior nurse/matron, if still unresolved make an appointment to see the chief executive.

For a variety of reasons people don’t feel that they can complain at the time, and sometimes as time goes by the resentment at the way you have been treated festers.

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Complaints are time limited:

You should take note that there is a time limit for a complaint to be made and that is six months from the date the incident occurred, or from the date you first were aware of the problem.

NHS complaint procedure

There are three stages to making a complaint in the NHS and most private hospitals follow a similar procedure

  1. Local resolution- In every case the first stage is to make a complaint against the practitioner. Large health centres and hospitals have staff who deal with these situations. Smaller surgeries may not have someone specifically designated to, but their will be a practice manager who will be able to look into it for you.

    In Hospital  The Patient Advice and Liaison Service is available  PALS who will not be able to take up the complaint formally but will be able to help you with advice and perhaps help in an informal manner with the complaint.

  2. Independent review - This is the second stage whereby your complaint hasn’t been satisfactorily resolved at the first stage.

    a. In England independent reviews are carried out by the Healthcare Commission. Helpline : 0845 601 3012

    b. In Northern Ireland independent  reviews are carried out by Health Boards

    Eastern Health and Social Services Board
    12-22 Linenhall Street
    BT2 8BS
    Tel no:+4402890321313
    Fax: +4402890553681

    Northern Health Board
    Patient info service 0845 7626428
    Tel No: 028 25311000
    Fax: 028 25311100

    Southern Health Board
    Southern Health & Social Services Board
    Tower Hill
    BT61 9DR
    Tel no: (028) 3741 0041
    Fax:  (028) 3741 4550
    Textphone (028) 3741 4530
    Email :

    Western Health & Social Services Board
    15 Gransha Park
    Clooney Road
    BT47 6FN
    General Switchboard: (028) 7186 0086
    Fax: (028) 7186 0311

    At the independent review a variety of course of action can be taken:

    a. The complaint can be returned to the hospital/Trust for further investigation if a local resolution could still be possible.

    b. An independent panel will be set up to look into the complaint further

    c. No further action will be taken if it perceived that all actions possible have been taken

  3. If you get to the stage where no further action will be taken or if you are unhappy with the outcome you can refer the matter to the Independent Health Service Ombudsman:

    Independent Health Service Ombudsman
    Millbank Tower
    London, SW1P 4QP 
    Tel:  0345 015 4033

    Click here for information about using the Ombudsman; How to use an ombudsman

  4. Or alternatively seek a Judicial Review – this means that you wish to challenge the final decision. This is a court of law which reviews the decisions which have been made by public bodies

To find out more about Judicial reviews and if this is the course of action for you to take click here

Taking Legal action

If you choose to take legal action against your GP, or against an individual in the NHS or Private Healthcare sector you will need to consult a solicitor.

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Personal Injury Legal Advice


Carmine Procaccini is a colleague in the team of Landau Zeffertt Weir, Solicitors in London and is offering "Hospital Help" users a Free and swift initial consultation

You may contact Carmine with your enquiry via our enquiry form by clicking here

The Department of Health itself does not investigate individual complaints – these must be pursued through the NHS complaints procedure.

Each private hospital will have a formal complaints procedure for you to follow along similar lines. If you are dissatisfied with the results of either the NHS or Private Hospital complaints procedure, you will be able to ask for a review from  Healthcare commission:-


Healthcare commission (England)
Complaints Investigation Team
Manchester, M1 9XZ
Tel:   0845 601 3012

Care Commission
Compass House
11 Riverside Drive
Tel: 01382 207200

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is the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service which was set up in September 2003. It was designed to support people who wanted to pursue a complaint against the NHS either regarding treatment or care.

They provide support and advice and have local advocates who can help you
Click here for more information

You can contact them via Hospitals, at your Health center, NHS Direct, PALS
Or their local offices:-


0845 120 3784

South West

0845 120 3782


0845 600 8616

North East

0808 8023000

North West

0808 8023000

Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire

0845 456 1082

Cambridge, Norfolk & Suffolk

0845 456 1084


0845 456 1083

West Midlands

0845 120 3748

East Midlands

0808 8023000

Yorkshire and Humberside

0808 8023000

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