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NHS and adult social care services - how complaints should be handled

This advice applies to England

There are guidelines about how complaints about the NHS and adult social care should be handled. If you aren’t satisfied with the way your concern has been handled, you can complain about this too.

Who must have a complaints procedure?

By law, all organisations providing NHS and local authority social care must have a complaints procedure. Here are just some examples of organisations that must have a complaints procedure but remember that the list doesn’t cover every organisation you could complain about:

  • hospitals, including private hospitals that provide services funded by the NHS
  • GPs
  • out-of-hours GP services
  • dentists and opticians
  • community health services such as physiotherapists, speech therapists and wheelchair services
  • ambulance services
  • mental health services
  • local authorities
  • private companies providing adult social care, either on behalf of the local authority or not. These organisations must have a complaints procedure in order to meet the Care Quality Commission standards for registration. However, they aren’t covered by the official NHS and adult social care complaints procedure.

Standards for handling complaints

Each organisation can draw up its own complaints procedure but by law there are certain minimum requirements which must be met. They must all:

  • make information available to the public about how they deal with complaints and how you can get further information about these arrangements
  • deal with complaints efficiently
  • investigate complaints properly
  • treat you with respect and courtesy if you make a complaint
  • help you to understand the complaints procedure or give you advice about where you can get this help
  • give you an appropriate response to your complaint, within an appropriate time and tell you the outcome, even if they don’t uphold your complaint
  • tell you how to take your complaint further if you are still not happy.

There must be someone named as responsible for making sure the complaints system works. This could be, for example, the chief executive of an NHS hospital or the practice manager in a GPs surgery. Also there must be a complaints manager who is responsible for managing the complaints procedure.

If you’re not happy about the way the complaint is investigated

If you’re unhappy about the way your complaint was handled, you can contact an Ombudsman. If the complaint is about the NHS, you can go to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman. If the complaint is about adult social care, you can go to the Local Government Ombudsman. If the complaint involves both NHS and adult social care, the Ombudsmen will work together on your complaint.

Get help

It can be difficult or distressing to make a complaint and this can be made even worse if your complaint isn’t handled properly. Get help if this happens, for example, from local Healthwatch.

Next steps

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