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Dos and don'ts of making a complaint about a health service

This advice applies to England

This page gives you tips about how you should make a complaint and what not to do.

Reasons to complain

Do:

Make sure you have a good reason to complain. For example, certain medical treatments are not without risk. If the risks have been clearly explained to you, you have given valid consent to the treatment, and no professional mistakes have been made, you don't have grounds for a complaint

Don’t:

Make claims with no basis about the organisations or members of their staff. And don't use the complaints procedures to reopen concerns which have already been fully investigated and where no evidence of wrongdoing was found.

Be clear

Do:

List your concerns in a clear way, giving the names of the people concerned and the dates of events that have happened. Don't forget to include your full name, date of birth, address and other contact details. In the case of NHS complaints, also give your NHS number.

Don’t:

Bury your complaint in amongst lengthy documentation about things that aren't relevant.

Be professional

Do:

Clearly state that you're making a complaint under the NHS or local authority complaints procedure about an issue of concern

Don't:

Make personal attacks against employees

Be specific

Do:

If you're asking for an explanation of what went wrong, be as clear as possible about the information you want, rather than asking general questions

Don’t:

Make general statements about health and care professionals. For example, a general complaint such as 'Doctors never listen to anything a patient ever says', isn't helpful

Get help

Do:

Try to get help to make your complaint. Even if you don't get professional help, talk it over with someone else so that they can point out anything which isn't clear

Don’t:

Wait too long before before getting help. For some sort of actions, there are time limits that you mustn't miss

Be polite

Do:

Use straightforward, polite language

Don’t:

Use offensive or threatening language

Be prompt

Do:

Raise your concern as soon as possible

Don’t:

Make a complaint about something that happened a long time ago, unless you have a good reason for the delay

Be focused

Do:

Stay focused on the main points of your complaint.

Don’t:

Let your attention start to drift onto less important issues

Know what you want

Do:

Think about whether making a complaint is the best way of achieving what you want. In some cases, it may be easier for you to work round a problem. But you should never suffer in silence

Don’t:

Feel you have to carry on making a complaint if this no longer feels right for you. You can drop a complaint at any time

Be helpful

Do:

Aim to be flexible

Don’t:

Use a complaint as a way of 'scoring points' against the organisation

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