This information applies to Scotland
Making a complaint about the NHS
You have the right to make a complaint about any aspect of NHS treatment using the NHS complaints procedure. To use the procedure you must usually be a patient or a former patient of the practitioner or institution concerned, although it is possible to complain on behalf of someone else. If you want to complain on behalf of another person, the hospital or practice must agree that you are a suitable representative.
If you are a relative or friend of someone who is unable to give permission for you to complain on their behalf because of illness, incapacity or death, then you may make the complaint if it is agreed that you are a suitable representative.
There is a useful NHS fact sheet called Feedback and complaints. It is available on the NHS inform website at www.nhsinform.co.uk.
There is also a fact sheet for young people called Have your say! - your right to be heard and it is also available on the NHS inform website at www.nhsinform.co.uk.
Time limits for making a complaint
You should make your complaint as soon as possible after the problem incident. The time limit for complaints is usually six months from the date of this incident or within six months of you finding out you have a reason to complain (but no longer than 12 months after the event). However, if a hospital or practice is unaware of the complaint, the six months limit starts from the time they first know about it as long as this is within twelve months of the date of the incident.
There is discretion to waive the time limit where it would be unreasonable to expect you to have complained in time, for example, because of grief or trauma. It must, however, still be possible to investigate the complaint.
If you are seeking financial compensation for damage to health caused by medical negligence you will need to take separate legal action (see under heading Taking legal action about your NHS complaint).
If you are seeking financial redress for, perhaps, lost property, damaged goods or loss of earnings, it would be worthwhile asking the NHS complaints team how to make a claim as NHS Boards have the power to offer financial redress. You can ask the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) for help.
Complaints about NHS services for the armed forces, family and veterans
The NHS has particular responsibilities to the armed forces, family and veterans, including providing priority treatment to veterans for service-related conditions. The Scottish Government has produced a leaflet about veterans getting appropriate priority NHS treatment. The leaflet is called ‘Have you served your country? Taking care of veterans’ and is available on the Scottish Government website at www.scotland.gov.uk. This leaflet suggests using the NHS complaints procedure to resolve any breakdown in the arrangements for priority treatment for veterans. The Armed Services Advice Project (ASAP) or the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) can help with such complaints.
For more information about using the Armed Services Advice Project, see healthcare for people injured in the armed forces and veterans.
For more information about NHS services for the armed forces, family and veterans, see NHS patients' rights.
The NHS complaints procedure
First stage – Local Resolution
If you want to make a complaint about any aspect of NHS treatment you have received or been refused, go to the practice or hospital concerned and ask for a copy of their complaints procedure. This is the same for GPs, opticians, dentists, hospitals, and any other care given by the NHS.
In all cases the first stage of the procedure is to make a complaint to the practitioner or organisation concerned. This first stage is called Local Resolution. A large health centre may have a member of staff designated as complaints manager. A smaller practice will probably not have such a person, but all NHS practices have a procedure, and someone who has responsibility for it. In most cases the matter will be resolved at this stage.
If your complaint is about primary care services (GPs and other family health services), the complaints manager can arrange for an independent conciliator to be brought in to help resolve the complaint. A conciliator or mediator might also be available to help resolve complaints about other types of NHS services.
Second stage – referral to the Ombudsman
If your complaint is not resolved through local resolution you can refer the matter to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) or seek a judicial review.
Generally you have to send your complaint to the Ombudsman within a year from when what you are complaining about happened from when you found out about it. If there are special circumstances, the Ombudsman may be able to extend the time limit. There are fact sheets on the SPSO website about how to make a complaint about the NHS in Scotland and how to complain about continuing care and also about making a complaint about removal from a GP or dentist's register. These can be found on the SPSO website at www.spso.org.uk.
For more information about using the Ombudsman, see How to use an ombudsman in Scotland.
It may be possible to challenge the final decision on your complaint by seeking a judicial review. Judicial review is a procedure which allows a court of law to review decisions made by public bodies. You will need to consult a solicitor if you plan to seek a judicial review.
Help with your complaint
Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS)
The Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) is an independent service which provides free, accessible and confidential advice and support to patients, their carers and families about NHS healthcare. The service is provided by the Scottish CAB Service and you can access it from any Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland. PASS promotes an awareness and understanding of the rights and responsibilities of patients and advises and supports people who wish to give feedback, make comments, raise concerns or make a complaint about treatment and care provided by the NHS in Scotland.
- helps you understand your rights and responsibilities as a patient
- provides information, advice and support for anyone who wishes to give feedback or comments, or raise concerns or complaints, about health care delivered by NHS Scotland
- provides practical help with making a complaint, including writing letters, making phone calls and supporting you in preparing for and attending meetings
- works with the NHS by using feedback to improve your healthcare and NHS service provision
You can find more information about PASS on the Patient Advice and Support Service website at www.patientadvicescotland.org.uk.
You can also get help from a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.
Taking legal action about your NHS complaint
If you are considering taking legal action about your NHS complaint, you will need to consult a solicitor.
You should be aware that these actions are costly and complex. All family practitioners are insured and legal action will usually be contested by an insurance company. Where the legal action is about the actions of an NHS Health Board employee, the NHS Health Board will be responsible for deciding whether to contest the action.
Complaints about professional misconduct
If you think that an NHS practitioner has been guilty of professional misconduct, it may be possible to complain to the practitioner's professional or regulatory body. If a practitioner is found guilty of professional misconduct they can be prevented from practising in the future.
You may make a complaint to a professional body even if you have also made a complaint under the NHS complaints procedure. However, if an investigation has already started under the NHS complaints procedure, the professional body may decide to wait for the outcome of this before deciding what action it should take.
To find out more about the appropriate professional body, you can look at a leaflet called 'Who regulates health and social care professionals', produced jointly by all of the regulatory bodies including the General Medical Council. The leaflet outlines which regulatory body is responsible for monitoring each profession and what regulation means. It also provides contact details for all of the organisations. The leaflet has been produced in 12 languages and a large print version of the English version is also available. To download a copy of the leaflet, go to the website of the General Medical Council at www.gmc-uk.org.
The General Medical Council (GMC) has produced a number of leaflets about concerns and complaints about doctors. There is one called 'What to expect from your doctor: a guide for patients' and another called 'How to complain about a doctor in Scotland'. To download a copy of either leaflet, go to the website of the General Medical Council at www.gmc-uk.org.
The NHS is not allowed to discriminate against you because of age, race, sex, disability, religion or belief, sexuality, gender reassignment or because you are married or in a civil partnership.
For more information about discrimination see our discrimination pages.