Changes to the way we handle complaints about the NHS

Last updated: 4 August 2021

We've made some changes to the way we handle NHS complaints. This is to prevent long waiting times for people who bring their complaints to us and make sure we quickly identify serious service failings.

Our service

What changes have you made to your service?

From Thursday 15 April 2021, we will only look further into the more serious complaints about the NHS that people bring to us. If we can resolve a complaint quickly, we will do so. However, if we can’t resolve it quickly and can see the impact on the affected person was relatively minor, we will let you know that we will not be looking at it any further.

Why have you made these changes?

We currently have a growing queue of over 2,500 complaints waiting to be looked at. We need to act now so that we can respond to people whose complaints are in the queue and make sure we quickly identify serious service failings. We also need to make sure we can continue to look at new complaints that are brought to us to prevent further long waiting times.

Why do you have a queue of complaints?

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a significant impact on our service and the organisations we receive complaints about. Like many public services, our productivity has been affected. For the organisations we investigate, it has affected their ability to provide the information we need to carry out investigations. These challenges have led to people waiting far longer than usual for us to look at their complaints.

How many complaints are in your queue, waiting to be looked at?

Currently there are over 2,500 complaints in our queue.

How do you decide which complaints are serious and which aren’t?

Every complaint is important and gives us valuable information about public services, including where improvements are needed. We use our severity of injustice scale to determine the seriousness of a complaint. It allows us to make sure the recommendations we make are consistent and transparent for everyone who uses our service. 

Is this a temporary or permanent service change?

We have made this change in response to the impact the pandemic has had on our service. We will keep it under review and continue to communicate any changes on our website. We will always let you know directly if your complaint is being affected because of a change to our service.

Will you still look at all complaints about UK government departments and public organisations?

Yes. The change to our service only applies to complaints about the NHS in England.

Your complaint

I am waiting to hear from you about my complaint. Will this change apply to me?

If your complaint has not yet been allocated to a caseworker and we identify that we are unable to look at it any further, we will contact you to explain this.

My case has been allocated to a caseworker. Will it be affected by this change?

If your complaint was allocated to a caseworker before 15 April 2021 it will be handled as normal. We are reviewing all cases in our queue and will contact anyone who is affected by this change. 

I’m not sure whether my complaint is one you would look at. Should I bring it to you anyway?

We recommend you use our complaint checker to see if your case is ready to be brought to us. 

Please do not submit a complaint to us if it is about:

  • delays with complaint responses 
  • matters which are likely to resolve themselves within the next few weeks or months
  • delays in service delivery which are non-critical and are the result of an organisation coping with COVID-19.   

Once you are ready to bring your complaint to us, we will look at it and let you know whether we can take it forward. You can also contact our Helpline on 0345 015 4033 to discuss your complaint. Lines are open Monday to Thursday, 8.30am to 5.00pm and Friday, 8.30am to 12pm.

I’m not sure what this means for me. Can someone help me with my complaint?

If your complaint is about the NHS, then you could contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS), the Patients Association or your local Healthwatch for advice on taking it forward. If you are complaining about a government department or service, your local Citizens Advice will be able to give you information and advice. Read more about the help and support you can get.

Can I request a review of my complaint if I’m not happy with your decision?

Under this new process, if we have contacted you to let you know we will not be looking further into your complaint, you will not be able to request a review of our decision.