How to write a letter of complaint about NHS treatment or services

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First4Lawyers, July 09, 2018

If you have concerns about an NHS treatment or service you’ve experienced, you can file a letter of complaint. This includes treatment funded by the NHS at a private hospital.

A letter of complaint isn’t the same as making a medical negligence claim, but, it could be used as part of your case if you want to claim.

In 2018-19, there were a total of 208,924 written complaints to the NHS.

How to complain

Writing a letter of complaint about treatment from the NHS is a relatively simple task:

  • Understand if you have the right to complain
  • Write down the relevant details
  • Compose the letter
  • Send it to the service
  • Seek further legal advice if necessary

If you’re concerned there has been negligence, you should contact us using the links at the top of the page, or give us a call for guidance as soon as possible. First4Lawyers may be able to offer a No Win No Fee service to help you fight your case. Contact us today for free, impartial, no-obligation advice.

Only pay a fee if you receive compensation

Where we offer No Win No Fee services typically customers pay 25% of the amount recovered by our solicitors, although this will be subject to your individual circumstances and the actual fee may be less than this but it will never be more. Success fees are common practice and they were introduced when the law changed in April 2013.

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Do you have the right to make an NHS complaint?

Before you begin the complaint letter, it’s important to ensure that you have the right to complain according to the rules:

  • The issue has already affected you: You can only complain about future decisions if you can be certain they’ll affect you (e.g. a local hospital closing down will leave you without access to emergency medical care).
  • If you’re complaining on behalf of someone else, you must have permission: This rule is flexible for those who are not able to understand the situation, or who have passed away.
  • You must understand the conditions of the complaint: There is no minimum age for filing a complaint, which means children can complain. However, they must fully understand what they are complaining about and why, otherwise a parent or guardian must carry out the complaint.
  • You haven’t already made a verbal complaint and reached a conclusion you’re happy with: If you’ve already complained verbally and the NHS has resolved the issue by the end of the next working day, you can’t complain again with a letter.
  • You’re not complaining about an employment issue: The process is different for NHS employees looking to complain about an issue with their role.
  • You haven’t already complained: If you’ve already issued a complaint, you cannot make another complaint about the same issue.

Keep a record of relevant details

It’s important to keep notes of the details related to your complaint as a letter of complaint is only effective if it’s accurate.

Attempting to resolve the problem in person is always recommended before sending an official letter. If you have done this, keep details about the conversation and write down what stopped the complaint being resolved in person.

You should also note times, dates, and people you interacted with. For example, if you have had repeated problems arranging an appointment with your GP, make a note of the receptionists you dealt with, the GP surgery, the times you requested appointments, and the doctor you were trying to see.

Compose your complaint letter

It’s important to be clear, concise, and include all the relevant details so you can get your point across.

Begin the letter with your address and the address of the NHS department or provider you are filing a complaint against (e.g. your GP surgery or local hospital).

Address it to the person you want to deal with the complaint, such as a doctor you’ve been trying to contact.

In the first paragraph, explain what the letter is about, saying that it is an official complaint. You should also state the name, date of birth, and NHS number of yourself or the person you’re acting for.

The main part of the letter should explain clearly and succinctly what your complaint is. For example, if you’ve had repeated difficulties making an appointment, explain what those difficulties were and the dates you attempted to make them for.

If you have any evidence, such as an appointment card, include a copy with the letter and say you’ve attached it in the letter. Finish the letter highlighting that you have followed the correct complaints guidelines, and that you expect a timely response.

Remember – your letter of complaint should be written very clearly and should avoid any emotional language or unfounded claims that you can’t back up with evidence.

Send your letter

Every service in the NHS must have its own complaints procedure. Because there isn’t one central place you can send your letter to, you must find out exactly where to send it.

The complaints procedure will be set out in the waiting room or reception area of most NHS services. If you can’t visit the reception area, or if you wish to avoid sending a letter directly to the service, you can find the commissioner who is in charge of the services in that area and send it to them.

Once you have sent your letter, you should expect receipt of the complaint within three working days. Besides the receipt of the letter, there isn’t a set time frame for the actual response. However, if you haven’t heard anything within six months of sending the letter, the service should explain what the delay is. At this point, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman or reach out to a solicitor for further advice.

Seek legal advice if necessary

If you’re not satisfied with the response, it might be time to take things further. Contact First4Lawyers to find out if you might have a case for medical negligence, and you’ll be given the guidance to see what your best options for next steps are.

Find out more about medical negligence claims.


Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4Lawyers’ online information alone.

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