Frequently Asked Questions

Our NHS Complaints Advocacy Helpline team is available to answer your questions. You can speak to us directly on 0300 330 5454 or email us at nhscomplaints@voiceability.org

Below we have a list of frequently asked questions. If we have answered other questions that you think would be helpful for others, please let us know and we can add it to our website.


Who can complain?

Anyone can complain about the service that they have received from the NHS. This includes treatment and care you may have been given by your GP, hospital, dental surgery, pharmacy, optician or ambulance service.

In some cases, you can make a complaint on behalf of someone else.

Whether you want to complain about care and treatment you have received, or someone you know, you can contact the NHS Complaints Advocacy Service for support.

When should I complain?

You should make your complaint as soon as possible. The NHS complaint procedure states that you should make your complaint within 12 months of either the event you are complaining about or as soon as the matter came to your attention. This time limit can be extended as long as the complaint can still be satisfactorily investigated so don’t let this prevent you from contacting NHS England about your complaint.

How are NHS Complaints Advocacy Services independent from the NHS?

VoiceAbility NHS Complaints Advocacy Services are paid for by local authorities, not the NHS. This means that we do not answer to the NHS and are able to be completely impartial. Our role, throughout all of our services, is to make sure that people have a right to be heard. We are a charity, run by the people who use services like ourselves and many of our services are developed in partnership with people with lived experience of disability or disadvantage. We do not share information about you with anyone outside of VoiceAbility without your consent.

How is the NHS Complaints Advocacy Service different from PALS?

PALS stands for Patient Advice and Liaison Service. PALS services are provided by NHS organisations by NHS staff. They can talk to other NHS staff members about day to day issues that concern you to provide a quick answer. They can give you information which may help you with your questions and give you information about how to complain about the NHS if you are not satisfied.

An NHS Complaints Advocacy Service is completely independent of the NHS and will support you through the NHS complaints procedure.

I don’t know if I want to complain. How can you help me?

If you’re not sure if you want to make a complaint, you can get in touch with us and we will listen to your concerns. We’ll discuss what end result you would like to see and talk through the options that you have to achieve those results.

We can send you an information pack, which will help you make a complaint if that is what you have decided to do. You can also download the pack on this website. The pack has lots of information that will help you make a complaint.

If you decide that you want to make a complaint, but don’t want to make it by yourself, our advocates can support you through the process until you are satisfied that the best possible resolution has been achieved.

How will my advocate support me?

All of our advocates understand the NHS complaints process and can help you navigate it. If an NHS Complaints Advocate is required to support you and depending on your needs, we can:

  • explore the options available to you at each stage of the complaints procedure
  • help you to write an effective complaint letter
  • help you to prepare for a meeting and attend
  • contact and speak to third parties
  • consider whether you are satisfied with the response you receive from the NHS provider.

Your Advocate will not try to persuade you to take a particular course of action and will always respect your decisions and act upon your instruction.

Is there anything that my advocate won’t be able to do?

Your advocate is there to support you to make a decision. We won’t tell you what you should do or try and persuade you to take a particular course of action. We will simply talk to you about your situation and give you information about your options.

We won’t contact people without talking it through with you first and getting your agreement.

We cannot give you medical or legal advice. If you want information about legal assistance you should contact the Community Legal Advice service.

We cannot support people whose healthcare and treatment is being provided by a private provider, but can if the healthcare and treatment is NHS funded.

Will my NHS Complaints Advocacy Service advocate go to meetings with me?

Yes, your advocate will help you prepare for any meetings you have about your complaint and if you need them to, will come to the meeting with you.

What will be achieved if I do make a complaint?

When you first contact us, you may have a clear idea of what you want to be achieved. We can talk through your situation with you and help you understand how best to get the resolution that you want.

You might want to get an answer about a particular concern or an apology about something that has happened. You might want to get assurances that the NHS are going to improve the way they work, to avoid similar situations in the future.

Whatever the result is that you want; our advocates can help you achieve it.

What won't I get from making a complaint?

You have a right to complain about any treatment that you have concerns about; however for some types of complaints there may be specific routes that you have to take.

If you want to get financial compensation for medical carelessness, for example if a surgery went wrong, you will need to take legal action. You would need to speak to a solicitor who is specially trained to work on medical or clinical negligence cases, within three years of the event.

If you feel that a member of NHS staff should go through formal disciplinary procedures, you cannot use the NHS complaints procedure to do this. However, this may happen as a result of a complaint you make through separate internal NHS procedures.

Useful Websites:

  • If you want information about legal assistance you should contact the Community Legal Advice service.
  • Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) is the UK charity for patient safety and justice. They provide free and confidential advice and support to people affected by medical accidents.
  • General Medical Council (GMC) registers doctors to practise medicine in the UK. They protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine.
  • The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) regulates nurses and midwives, setting standards and dealing with concerns and allegations if they do not meet those standards.

My mother is elderly and I don´t feel she could manage a complaints process. Can I complain for her?

Yes. You can complain for a friend or relative or someone you care for as long as they agree. It’s a good idea to get their permission in writing.

My partner has Alzheimer's Disease. Do I still need their permission to make a complaint?

No. If your friend or relative is very ill, or does not have the capacity to give permission because of an impairment or a disability, you may complain on their behalf without their permission.

My father died and I didn't have his consent to act for him. Can I complain about his treatment?

Yes. You can make a complaint or take over a complaint on behalf of a friend or relative who has died, even if they did not give written permission. In some cases the NHS can decide not to accept you as a suitable representative and may suggest another person. You can request an Independent Review by writing to the Health Service Ombudsman.

My nephew is 15 and has Down's Syndrome. Can I complain on his behalf without his written permission?

You may be able to. You can represent someone by making a complaint if they: •have passed away •are a child •are unable to complain themselves (incapacitated physically) •are unable to complain themselves (lack of mental capacity) •have requested a representative

If you make a complaint on behalf of a child, the service you complain to must not consider the complaint unless there is a good reason why you are making the complaint rather than the child.

If the service is not satisfied that there is a good enough reason, they must write to you and tell you their reasons for not accepting the complaint.

If the service believes that a complaint is being made on behalf of a child, or on behalf of someone who lacks capacity, and the complaint is not in that person’s best interest, they must refuse to investigate the matter. They will write and explain their reasons to you.

Can I complain about something that happened some time ago?

It depends how long ago it happened. You should make your complaint:

• within 12 months of the incident happening, or • within 12 months of realising you had something to complain about.

NHS organisations are allowed to waive this time limit if there are good reasons (for example, if you were too ill at the time) and/or it is possible to investigate the complaint effectively.