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. Applies to England and Wales.

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Where to start

What can I do if I have a problem with my health or social care?

If you experience a problem with the health care or social care you receive, or about how your personal information is managed, there are steps you can take to try to improve your situation.

Firstly, it's important to work out whether your problem is about health care or social care, because this will determine who you make your complaint to.

What are health care decisions?

Here are some examples of healthcare decisions. There are more examples that aren't listed, this is just to give you an idea:

Health care decisions are made by people like:

Examples of health care decisions you might complain about:

  • GPs
  • nurses (for example, community mental health nurses, district nurses or practice nurses)
  • clinical psychologists
  • psychiatrists
  • hospital managers
  • occupational therapists
  • speech and language therapists
  • dentists and opticians
  • you haven’t been given information about your treatment, or something you think you should have by NHS staff
  • you feel your visiting hours are too restricted and you haven’t been given a good reason
  • you feel you're being discriminated against
  • your discharge from hospital – how it's been done, or when it's happening
  • you think NHS staff have behaved inappropriately
  • you think a health professional didn’t seek your informed consent before giving you medication
  • you’ve waited a long time for your treatment
  • you think the health professionals are ignoring some of your symptoms
  • you feel your wishes and preferences about your treatment are being ignored
  • you think your diagnosis is wrong
  • you think the health care you have been given was inadequate, for example you don’t think you were looked after properly in hospital
  • you are worried about who is accessing your medical records
  • you want to dispute a diagnosis made by a professional because you disagree with them
  • a refusal to provide a particular service in your area

You can make a complaint about your health care whether you are receiving it in:

  • the community at home
  • supported accommodation
  • a care home
  • hospital (this includes if you are detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act, also known as being sectioned)

When you complain about healthcare to the NHS, you can complain about any aspect of your care, treatment or services received from them. The process is different if you are complaining about private health care.

What are social care decisions?

Here are some examples of social care decisions. There are more examples that aren't listed, this is just to give you an idea:

Social care decisions are made by people like:

Examples of social care decisions you might complain about:

  • social workers
  • social care workers (for example, homecare workers)
  • occupational therapists
  • support workers
  • nurses (for example, community mental health nurses, district nurses or practice nurses)
  • other advisers in the non-profit sector who work in social care, for example debt advisors
  • whether or not you should be assessed for social care by social services
  • how you have been assessed for social care
  • you think there have been long delays in providing an assessment or services
  • you don’t think a service the local authority is delivering meets your needs
  • you feel you are being discriminated against
  • the local authority has refused to assess your needs (or those of your carer)
  • you think the behaviour of staff in social service has been inappropriate
  • whether you should be paying for some of your care
  • a refusal to provide a particular service in your area

You can complain about social care that you are receiving or think you should be receiving, or a decision by the local authority that affects you. This is the case whether you are living in:

  • the community and receiving some support at home
  • supported accommodation, or
  • a care home

Who can complain?

A complaint can be made by:

  • you – if you have used the health or social care services, you have the right to complain about your experience. For example, you might want to complain about delays, the quality of service or a refusal to provide a service.

  • a carer, friend or family member – carers, friends or family of someone receiving a service from the NHS or the local authority also have the right to complain if they are affected or likely to be affected by what has gone wrong.
  • someone else on your behalf – as long as they provide some evidence of your written consent with the complaint. There are some instances where they don’t need written consent, for example if you are are under 18, or you can't make the complaint yourself because you don’t have the capacity to complain at that time (see our information on the Mental Capacity Act). A complaint can also be made on someone's behalf without their written consent if they have passed away.

Who do I complain to?

Who you make your complaint to will depend on:

  • the type of care you are complaining about (health care or social care)
  • where the event took place (England or Wales)

If your complaint involves more than one organisation, you can make the complaint to just one of them and they should let the other organisation(s) know.

Type of care your complaint is about Where the event took place Who you would complain to

Health care

England

  • Care provider: for example, the hospital, care home or organisation providing the service, treatment or other care.

Health care

(In Wales, this kind of complaint would be referred to as 'raising a concern'.)

Wales

  • Care provider: for example, the hospital, care home or organisation providing the service, treatment or other care.
  • Body responsible for providing care: the Local Health Board. There are seven of these across Wales, see their website for a full list.

Social care

England or Wales

  • Care provider: for example, the care home or organisation providing the service or other care.
  • Body responsible for providing the care: the local authority.

It can be useful to complain directly to the provider, who is often seeking feedback on how they are doing as well. However, if you are worried about the impact on you if you make a complaint directly to a provider (for example, you are worried it might annoy the doctor or nurse involved in your care), you can complain directly to the commissioning organisation instead.

Example

Amelia wasn’t happy about some of the care she was receiving from her GP. She wanted to make a complaint to the GP surgery, but was very worried about doing this as she had heard of someone being struck off her GP’s register for making a complaint.

Once she had found out she could complain to the commissioning body instead, she decided to make her complaint to the NHS England about her GP surgery so that she didn’t have to worry about this. It was investigated and her GP apologised.

When can I complain?

You should try to make your complaint as soon as possible after the event or events have happened. However, the time limit for a making a complaint is normally 12 months from when:

  • the event happened, or
  • you first became aware of it

If you have missed both of these deadlines, you may still be able to complain if you have a good reason and it is still possible to investigate the compliant fairly and effectively.

These timescales apply whether you are in England or Wales, and whether your complaint is about health care or social care.

My problem is urgent, what can I do?

If your problem is urgent, you should try to get legal advice from a solicitor about your next steps. This is because sometimes you might be able to make a legal challenge without having made a complaint, or you can do the two together.

There are strict time limits to issue a legal challenge, so it’s important you seek legal advice if you think is something you might want to do.

See our page on speaking to a solicitor to find out more.

What if my complaint is about being under a section of the Mental Health Act?

If you are kept in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act, you may want to challenge the reason why you have been sectioned, or complain about your care and treatment in hospital.

Challenging your section

If you want to challenge your section, the Mental Health Act provides a few ways for you to do this. You would not use the NHS complaints system to make these sorts of challenges.

  • If you want to challenge your section because you don't think you should be made to stay in hospital, see our pages on sectioning and leaving hospital.
  • If you want to challenge your CTO because you don't think you should be receiving supervised treatment in the community, see our pages on ending your CTO.

Complaining about care and treatment

If you want to complain about how you have been looked after while you have been in hospital under the Mental Health Act, here are steps you can take:

For more information, see our pages on sectioning, or the Mental Health Act.


This information was published in May 2017. We will revise it in 2019.


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