Expert answers from
How to complain
- Making a complaint about the NHS in England
- Support to help you make a complaint about the NHS in England
- Local Healthwatch
- For people detained under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales
- Making a complaint about services run by a local authority in England
- Complaining about the conduct of mental health professionals
- Complaining about the NHS in Wales and Scotland
If you want to complain about NHS treatment or care in England, you have to start by complaining to the organisation that runs the service (either an NHS trust or non-NHS organisation that has been commissioned by the NHS), or to the individual GP surgery. Or you can complain to the organisation that has commissioned the service – either your local clinical commissioning group or NHS England (previously known as the NHS Commissioning Board), depending on which one has commissioned the service in question.
A family member can make a complaint on behalf of an individual, as long as the individual gives consent.
Every NHS organisation, including every GP surgery, has a procedure that will tell you how to lodge a complaint. To find out about the complaints procedure, look on the organisation’s website, or ask a member of staff.
The NHS Constitution, that outlines what you can expect from the NHS in England, states that complaints should be investigated properly and dealt with efficiently, and that the person who complains should be told the results of the investigation, and about any action taken as a result.
If you’re still unhappy after your complaint has been investigated, you can refer the matter to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman in England.
From 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012, there were 162,129 written complaints made about NHS services in England, including complaints about hospitals, community-based services and GPs. 10,439 of these complaints were about mental health services.
In March 2013, the Department of Health announced details of a review of the NHS complaints system in England. The review is being led by MP Ann Clwyd and Professor Tricia Hart, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and is due to report to the Secretary of State for Health in summer 2013.
People who want to appeal against a decision made under the Mental Health Act need to use a different procedure – see For people detained under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales below.
From 1 April 2013, your local authority has a duty to commission a free independent advocacy service that can help people make complaints about NHS care and treatment. This service was previously commissioned by central government and was known as the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service – ICAS. It may still be called 'ICAS' in some areas.
All NHS trusts have a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (known as PALS). PALS staff will tell you about their trust’s complaints procedure, and also about the NHS complaints advocacy service in your area. You can find out more about your local PALS by visiting individual NHS trust websites, or by visiting PALS Online where there is a directory to help you find your nearest PALS office.
There may be other advocacy organisations in your area that can advise you and your relative, or help you make a complaint. The website of Action for Advocacy lists details of many local organisations.
There are new Healthwatch organisations that have been set up all over England to give people a say on developing and improving local health and social care services. If you or your relative has a complaint about an NHS service, you may like to contact your local Healthwatch to tell them about it, particularly as complaints can help organisations make improvements. In some areas, local Healthwatch organisations may be able to give advice and support to people who want to make complaints about the NHS and social care. You can find your local Healthwatch on the Healthwatch England website.
The Care Quality Commission is responsible for protecting the interests of people detained and treated under the Mental Health Act. It is responsible for making sure that the Mental Health Act is used correctly, and that patients are cared for properly while they are detained in hospital, are on supervised community treatment, or on guardianship.
To find out more about how people can complain about decisions taken to detain them under the Mental Health Act, visit the Care Quality Commission website.
People who are detained under the Mental Health Act have a legal right to have support from someone who can help them make a complaint or raise a concern.
Independent mental health advocates offer this service: you can ask your local PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) how to get in touch with your local independent mental health advocates. Staff on the ward where your relative has been detained should give him or her this information. From 1 April 2013, local authorities are responsible for arranging the local independent mental health advocate service. This service is frequently provided by voluntary organisations.
You may be able to find out about independent mental health advocates in your area at the website of the charity Action for Advocacy.
To complain about a service run or commissioned by a local authority, you must first complain to the authority or the organisation that provides the service. Every local authority will have a complaints procedure, and many local authorities have a 'complaints team'. Search on your local council's website to find out contact details. If you are not happy after the local authority has investigated your complaint, you can contact the Local Government Ombudsman.
There is some useful information about complaining about services run by local authorities on the Local Government Ombudsman's website, and you can also call the Local Government Ombudsman advice team on 0300 061 0614 for more information.
Mental health professionals are registered with different organisations that can take action if individuals are not offering a high quality, professional service.
The General Medical Council (GMC) is responsible for ensuring doctors in the UK meet standards of good medical practice. If you have a serious complaint about a psychiatrist (that he or she may be a risk to patients, for example), contact the GMC. Visit the GMC website to find out more.
Clinical psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and art therapists are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Visit the HCPC website to find out how to make a complaint.
Mental health nurses are registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Visit the Nursing and Midwifery Council website to find out how to complain about a nurse.
All pharmacists who practise in Great Britain have to be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council. The Council can deal with complaints about the conduct of a pharmacist. Visit the General Pharmaceutical Council website to find out how to make a complaint.
This page was updated on 24 April 2013.
There are currently no plans to update the page because existing funding for mentalhealthcare.org.uk ceases at the end of April 2013.
We will, however, continue to regularly check that all links are working.
Links on this page last checked: 24 April 2013
Next links check due: August 2013
Other useful websites
Information about making complaints about the NHS and local authority social services in England.
Patient Opinion is a website founded by a GP where people and their families can share their experiences of NHS services. The idea of the site is that feedback – good or bad – can help improve services.
is a charity that can offer information and advice if you want to complain. There is a helpline, open weekdays from 9.30am to 5pm, on 0845 608 4455.