Starting out and TOP TIPS

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This section aims to:

  • give you an introduction on how to get any concerns about your NHS care, heard and fixed;
  • explain the laws that NHS organisations must follow when handling your complaint
  • answer common questions people ask
  • give you some ‘top tips’, based on our experience in helping hundreds of Reading people.

The NHS ….

If you are reading this you may be feeling angry, upset or confused about the issue that you want to raise a concern about. At the same time, you may be also unwell, have a disability, be grieving over a loss, or trying to look after an unwell relative. This can make raising a concern feel overwhelming but our advice and information can help you prepare to speak up and if needed, you can get free and confidential individual support from our NHS Complaints Advocacy Service to help you be heard.

The main steps for raising a concern are:

Step 1: Try to sort it out at the time by asking a senior staff person or manager on site to listen to your concerns. If nobody is available or you think staff won’t help, then you can try and raise your issue with the organisation’s Patient and Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). They can be a quick way to find the answers to your questions, or speak to staff directly about how to resolve your concerns.

Top tips

Raising your concern as early as possible can often nip the problem in the bud: you might have highlighted something that managers did not know about and who can quickly take action. This wand avoid lengthy procedures that drag on and cause you further stress.

Before approaching a staff member or PALS you might find it helpful to fill in our brief checklist, or talk it over first with a friend, to help you find the right words to say or to show them. 

Step 2: If you have gone through Step 1 but still feel your concern or complaint has not been resolved, you can make a formal complaint under what is called

This usually involves sending in a written complaint, waiting for around a month for the organisation to investigate the complaint and then receiving a written response.

Top tips

Be specific about what you want from the organisation: an apology, an explanation, or a change to the way they do things so it doesn’t happen to another person?  Here is an example of a complaint letter. We have a range of template letters you can use for different types of NHS organisations.

If you feel the organisation has not fixed your concerns, you can lodge a formal complaint under the NHS C P. This is a legal procedure and gives you rights to investigate your complaint.

Read the NHS Constitution to understand your legal NHS rights and whether they might have been breached. There is an Easy Read version.  ***Link to NHS Costitution 2015 & Easy Read 2013

If you think you have had been unfairly denied certain drugs or treatment, then you could research what the national advice to doctors is about various conditions from NICE (

If you think you have been discriminated against by the NHS because of your ethnicity, age, gender, disability or other factors, then

If you think any NHS staff member or organisation is abusing people or putting people’s safety at risk, then you can report it to various independent bodies. Phone Healthwatch for more advice on how.

Equality or Human Rights Act – Healthwatch Reading advocates might be able to assist you with this, you can request a meeting if you still have questions about your concerns. It is usually with a senior member of staff and not usually with any staff member you feel did not provide good care.

Practice what you want to say with a friend before the meeting, or bring one friend or relative along for moral support.

Healthwatch Reading can provide one-to-one support through formal complaints and more information about this support is available on another part of our website.

Step 3: If you are still dissatisfied after receiving a written response and/or going to a meeting, you can choose to go to the PHSO. This is a service that looks at what both sides have to say, requests extra evidence and any other expert opinion, before making an independent decision.

Top tip

Be aware that the PHSO does not carry out an entirely new investigation of your complaint but examines whether your complaint was handled properly.

Most of the time NHS care is very good, but things can go wrong.

You probably have lots of questions:

  • Who do I report or send my concern or complaint to?
  • Will speaking up about my complaint affect my ongoing care?
  • Will the organisation take my concern seriously?
  • Can I make a complaint about a relative or friend?
  • How long will it take to get the problem sorted out?
  • Can I get help to make my complaint?