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How to write a letter of complaint about NHS services

12th March 2018

Writing a letter of complaint isn’t the same as making a claim, but it can be a good start in trying to understand what happened to you and why; so whether you decide to claim or not, you should always raise a complaint if you have a problem with NHS care.

When making a complaint, you should work out whether or not you have the right to complain and this will depend on some things:

  • Whether the issue has already affected you. You must be complaining about illness or injury that has already been caused unless you are certain that a decision will cause you problems in the future – if for example you’re referred to a practice that you can’t travel to, or if a treatment centre is due to close.
  • You should be complaining about your care unless you have permission to complain on someone else’s behalf. This is relaxed in some cases where the person in question has passed away, or where the victim does not understand the situation.
  • Your understanding of the complaint. Children can complain for themselves, but they must be fully aware of all the conditions relating to their complaint. If they do not understand it all, a parent or guardian must step in to complain on their behalf.
  • You’re not raising the same complaint if it’s been resolved already. If you’ve already spoken to your doctor or the practice to complain, they have until the next working day to resolve the matter, so you can’t complain in a letter if the doctor or practice is already trying to resolve the problem. If the issue remains after a verbal complaint, then you can continue with a written complaint.
  • You haven’t already complained. If you’ve already complained officially about a matter that’s currently being investigated, you can’t complain again about the same issue.


Having covered those points, if you still feel you have the right to complain, you will need to write your letter. We recommend you try to resolve the problem in person first, however. If you’ve already tried to speak to the doctor or practice, keep notes on what you talked about, the date and time, and the outcome of the conversation. To get the best possible response and outcome, it’s important that the letter is brief, but contains all the relevant facts and details, so any other related appointment dates, phone calls, and names of practice staff will be helpful.

Once you have all the detail in front of you, you’ll need to compose the letter. Start this in the usual letter format with your address at the top, followed by the address of the trust, department or practice you’re raising a complaint with. Then, address the letter to the person you’ve been trying to contact, this might be your doctor.

In the first paragraph, begin by explaining why you’re writing the letter, and saying that it is an official complaint. To make it easier for the recipient to access your records and for them to be sure it’s you, do include your full name, date of birth and your NHS number (or the number for someone else if you’re complaining on their behalf).

The main body of the letter should be dedicated to covering the problem and the details you’ve documented. If you’ve had challenges in trying to arrange follow-up tests or examinations, explain this and note down all the times you’ve tried to contact them, and who it was that you spoke to. Any written letters or evidence that you might have will be helpful, so include copies of these.

Finish your letter by explaining that you’ve followed the complaints procedure properly and that you expect a response within a reasonable timeframe.

When re-reading your letter before sending it, be careful to look for emotional language or any points that don’t help to inform the doctor reading your letter. Try not to make any claims that you can’t reinforce with evidence.

When you’re happy with the result, you will need to send the letter. There isn’t a single destination for all complaints, so you will need to find out from the complaints guidelines which address you need to use to complain about your specific problem, it could be a department, a GP surgery, or another unit.

Once the letter is sent, you should receive a confirmation within three working days that they’ve received it, but there isn’t a set timeframe for writing back with an official response. If you’re still waiting six months later, the service responsible is obliged to tell you what the delay is. If you get to this stage, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

If you are interested in taking your NHS complaint further, Your Legal Friend could help you make a claim against the NHS.