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Complaining about health and social care

Explains what you can do if you experience a problem with the health or social care you receive or think you should have received.

How do I make a complaint?

Broadly, there are three steps you can take to address your problem. These are:

It's usually best to try these in this order, since it's much easier to solve something informally or through a formal complaint than by making a legal challenge. Often you must have tried the first two steps before you can make a legal challenge anyway.

Flowchart: How do I make a complaint?

Please note

How do I speak to someone informally about my problem?

If you have found that you have a problem with your health or social care, you should first try to speak to the provider informally. This can be a much easier and less stressful way to get your problem solved, and it is often the quickest too.

Here are some tips for speaking to someone informally about your problem:

  • Have a conversation with the person most involved in your care. Try talking to them about your concern. A useful way to do this could be to set up a meeting with them.
  • Make some notes before the meeting about what you want to say. This could help you if you're worried about what to say, or worried you might forget something important.
  • Get someone you know to come with you, like a family member or friend. They could come with you to the meeting and help support you. See our page on getting support for more information on other kinds of help you could ask for.

If you are in Wales and complaining about adult social care, the local authority must always offer to discuss a complaint to try and resolve it. This discussion must take place within 10 working days of the informal complaint and is aimed at trying to get a quick and successful resolution of most complaints.

How do I make a formal complaint?

If you've already tried speaking to someone informally, and that didn't work, you can look at making a formal complaint.

You can make a formal complaint in any of these ways:

  • Speaking to someone and telling them that you would like to make a formal complaint, as well as telling them what it is about. If you do this, the organisation is allowed to write down your complaint themselves and they must give you a copy of their written record.
  • Writing a letter
  • Sending an email

You should try to write down your complaint if you can, or get someone to help you do this. This way, you can make sure everything you want in your complaint is included. If you want to, you could also get some support when making a complaint.

Tips for writing a formal complaint

  • Date the letter of complaint.
  • Provide your name and address.
  • Give a clear account of what happened and what went wrong.
  • Include all the relevant facts such as dates and names but try to keep the letter concise.
  • Attach copies of relevant documents or photographs and list the items enclosed in the letter.
  • Explain what the solution you would like is, for example, an apology, better service or explanation.
  • Keep the tone polite.
  • Identify the date by which you expect a reply.
  • Keep a copy of the letter and anything else you included with the letter.
  • Send the letter by recorded delivery.

If your complaint is about a particular professional, you might also want to make a complaint to the organisation that regulates that person.

Getting copies of your medical or social care records

Depending on what you are complaining about, you might find it helpful to get a copy of your medical records or your social care records before you make a complaint.

You are entitled to ask organisations what information they hold on you, including asking for a copy of your records (see our pages on personal information to find out more).

If you are worried about how someone has handled your medical records or other personal information, you can complain directly to the Information Commissioner's Office (see our pages on personal information to find out more).

What should I expect if I make a formal complaint?

Generally, if you make a complaint, you should expect:

  • your complaint to be dealt with efficiently
  • your complaint to be properly investigated
  • action to be taken if necessary
  • to be treated with respect and courtesy
  • to receive, as far as possible, assistance to help you understand the procedure and advice on where to get support
  • to be told the outcome of the investigation of your complaint
  • to be given a timely and appropriate response

Here is some more information on what to expect depending on where you make your complaint:

In Wales, what you might expect following a formal complaint is different depending on whether it's about social care or health care.

  • If your complaint is about adult social care, you should expect a response within 25 days of making a formal complaint.
  • If your complaint is about health care (in Wales, this is referred to as 'raising a concern'), you should expect:
    • notification that your concern has been received within two working days, and
    • a final reply within 30 days of the date the organisation received your concern.

In England, if you make a formal complaint about health or social care, you should expect your complaint to be acknowledged within three working days from when it's received (orally or in writing).

When it's acknowledged, you should be told:

  • how it will be handled
  • how long it will take, and
  • when you should get a response.

What can I do if my formal complaint hasn't worked?

If you don't feel like your formal complaint has been dealt with effectively, you can make a complaint to the ombudsman. This is the next step for trying to get your complaint resolved.

Separately, you could also approach a health or social care regulator, or a professional regulator if your complaint is about an individual. These won't solve your complaint but may inform the regulator's decision to investigate that organisation or person.

If your complaint is about the care and treatment your received while you were kept in hospital (sectioned) under the Mental Health Act, you should always tell the health care regulator.

You may also be able to make a legal challenge, although the rules and timelines around this are very strict.

This information was published in May 2017.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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