Raising a concern about healthcare

If you're not satisfied with healthcare services you've received from the NHS, you can give feedback, raise a concern or make a complaint. However, how you do this, and the support you can access, differs between the four nations of the UK.


Initially, if you’re unhappy with a service, your care or treatment, it is worth raising your concerns with the staff where you received your care or accessed services. They may be able to resolve the issue quickly without the need for a more formal complaint.

However, if you don’t feel comfortable to talking to someone who has been directly involved in your care, or you would like to talk to someone who understands the complaints process or get some guidance and support, you could contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). 

Each NHS Trust in England has a PALS. They offer confidential advice, support and information on health-related issues and act as a point of contact for patients, their families and carers.

The role of PALS includes:

  • helping you with health-related questions and how to get more involved with your healthcare
  • providing information about the NHS and about agencies and support groups outside the NHS
  • helping to resolve concerns or problems for users of NHS services
  • improving services by feeding back concerns, suggestions and experiences from users
  • providing information about the NHS complaints procedure and how to get independent help in making a complaint.

You can find your local PALS service through the NHS website. You can also ask your GP surgery, hospital or phone NHS 111 for details of your nearest PALS.

The MS Trust has no connection with the PALS service at any hospital or Trust.

The organisation Healthwatch can also provide you with advice and information about how to raise a concern or make a complaint. Healthwatch is an independent body which champions health and social care. 

One of their roles is to feedback your experiences of care – good and bad – to NHS leaders and other decision makers to help improve standards of health and social care. There are over 150 local Healthwatch organisations so you should be able to find one wherever you live in England.

If you’re not happy with the response from the service that was involved with your care, you’re not comfortable with speaking to them or you wish to make a formal complaint you would need to contact the organisation that commissioned the service.

Complaints about primary care services (including GPs, dentists, pharmacists and opticians), military health services and some specialised services should be made through NHS England.

Complaints about secondary care (provided by a hospital, mental health services or in the community) should be made through your local integrated care board (ICB).

If your complaint is about a public health organisation (which provide services the promote health, prevent disease and prolong life), or social care arranged by your local council then you should contact your local council

Normally, a complaint should be made within 12 months of the incident occurring or of it coming to your attention. However, it may be possible to make a complaint later than this if you can provide good reasons why the complaint could not be made sooner, and the complaints manager believes it is still possible to complete a fair investigation. 

If you would like independent support during the complaints process, you can choose to work with an advocate. They can help explain your options, plan what you want to do and help support you to have your say and know your rights. You can find out more about advocacy and how it can help from national organisations such as VoiceAbility and POhWER or your local area may have its own advocacy service.


In Scotland, you can make a complaint through the NHS Complaints Handling Procedure.

Complaints about GP practices, dental surgeries, pharmacies and opticians generally should be made directly to the practice or shop manager. However, in exceptional circumstances where you feel unable to make direct contact with the service, you can contact the complaints team at your local health board for advice.

For complaints about any other NHS service, you should contact your local health board

If you’d like support to make a complaint you can contact the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS). They provide free, confidential and independent advice for people using the NHS in Scotland. 

They can: 

  • help you to give feedback or comments, raise concerns, or make complaints about the treatment you have received from the NHS
  • help you to prepare if the NHS offers a meeting to discuss a complaint or concern
  • help you write letters and make phone calls
  • help you access your medical and clinical records help you to understand your options regarding treatment, care and support.

The time limits for making a complaint against and NHS body in Scotland is:

  • six months from the event that brought about the complaint, or
  • six months from you becoming aware of the reason for the complaint, provided this is not later than 12 months after the event.

Complaints will still be accepted outside of these limits if it would have been unreasonable for you to have complained earlier and it’s still possible to investigate the facts.


In Wales, the process for raising concerns and complaints is called Putting Things Right.

The initial advice is to raise any concerns as soon as possible with the staff involved with your care, so they can try and resolve them immediately. If this doesn’t help, or you don’t want to speak with the staff you can give feedback, raise concerns or make a complaint by contacting the Local Health Board (LHB) covering your area. 

Advice and support to complain about NHS services is provided by Community Health Councils in Wales. Their complaints advocacy service can:

  • support you to make a complaint about services provided or paid for by the NHS, on your own or someone else’s behalf
  • signpost you to other organisations they think might help
  • answer questions about the process and explain your options
  • provide you with a step-by-step guide to the process and offer tips
  • provide you with a trained advocate who can help you raise your concern and support you through the process.

The time period for notifying a concern is:

  • 12 months from the event which is the subject of the concern, or
  • 12 months from becoming aware of the event you are complaining about, provided this isn’t later than 12 months after the event.

These time limits can be waived if you had a good reason for not making the complaint earlier and it’s still possible to investigate the concerns but must be made within three years.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, health and social care services are being restructured, so it’s best to check their website for the most up-to-date advice. The current process to raise a concern or make a complaint with health or social care services is as follows.

For concerns and complaints about GPs, dentists, pharmacists or opticians (known as family practitioner services) in the first instance you should contact the practice or practitioner. For services provided in a hospital or social care services in the community you should raise your concerns with your local Health and Social Care Trust, their websites gives further details about the process

If you’re not happy with the initial response to you can refer your complaint to the Northern Ireland Public Services Obudsman (NIPSO).

You can contact the Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG) of the Department of Health and Social Care (formerly the Health and Social Care Board) if you need help with complaints about family practitioner services.

The Patient and Client Council (PCC) offer a freephone service to support you with questions, concerns or complaints about your health and social care.

Ideally you should make your complaint as soon as possible, usually within six months and normally no longer than 12 months after the incident.

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