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The Importance of Making a Formal Complaint in Potential Medical Negligence Claims

Why and how to complain about medical negligence

If you think that you may have a claim for medical negligence, it can be difficult to know what to do next.

This short article aims to provide you with guidance on why, in the first instance, it is important that you consider making a formal complaint to the hospital/GP practice involved, and how to do that.

Why should I make a formal complaint?

Making a formal complaint gives the Trust or GP practice an opportunity to investigate your concerns and provide a response. They may conduct a formal investigation into what happened and provide you with a written explanation or apology. A formal complaint may also prompt the hospital or GP practice to evaluate if any lessons can be learnt from your experience and what measures can be put in place to prevent the same issues happening again.  

The response you receive may help you decide whether you wish to pursue a potential claim.

Having a formal response to your complaint is also very useful when you approach our Medical Negligence Department, as it will help us to assess the merits of your potential claim. This is particularly true where the Trust/GP practice has conducted a formal investigation, as this will provide an indicator of how seriously the issues are being taken and whether they admit any failings in care.

Who is allowed to make a complaint?

Anyone who has received services from the NHS can make a complaint.

It is also possible for someone to make a complaint on another person’s behalf if that person:

  • Has died,
  • Is a minor,
  • Does not have the physical and/or mental capacity to complain, or
  • Has asked you to make the complaint on their behalf.

How do I make a formal complaint?

To make a formal complaint, you will need to write to the Trust/GP practice setting out your concerns. Some helpful tips can be found below on what you could include in your complaint.

If your potential claim relates to an experience you had at a hospital, then you should write directly to the NHS Trust that governs that hospital.

If your potential claim relates to an experience you had at your GP practice, you should write to the practice and address your letter to the Practice Manager.

For any private treatment received, you should approach the clinician who treated you for a copy of their complaints procedure.

How long do I have to make my complaint?

It is advisable that you make your complaint as soon as possible. Your complaint should normally be made within 12 months of the date of the event that you are complaining about, or from the date that you found out about the problem.

In some circumstances, it may be possible to make your complaint after 12 months if there was a reason why you could not make one earlier. For example, this could be if you were still recovering from an injury or grieving.

Whilst it may be difficult at first, you should try to keep a record of dates, times, names and events so that you can refer back to them when making your complaint. If necessary, you can ask the healthcare provider for access to your medical records. 

Medical negligence complain checklist

  • Include full details of what happened with dates, approximate times and who was involved;
  • Try to be as accurate as possible;
  • Set out your concerns and what you think went wrong;
  • Outline what you would like done about your complaint – for example, an apology, or an investigation into the issues;
  • Keep the tone of your complaint clear, concise and neutral;
  • If you are writing on another’s behalf, ensure to include their personal details as well as your own.

You should avoid mentioning solicitors or threatening litigation in your complaint.

Other sources of assistance

  • The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (‘PALS’)

PALS offer confidential support and guidance on a range of health-related topics. They can answer health-related questions and assist you in resolving any concerns regarding an NHS service.

PALS can also guide you through the NHS complaints procedure.

To locate a PALS office near you, you can visit their website (, ask your GP or contact NHS 111.

  • Healthwatch

Healthwatch is an independent charity which advocates for people who use health and social care services.  They listen to patients’ experiences and share the views of local people with professionals to improve services. There are 152 Healthwatch organisations in England, including ones in East and West Sussex. 

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (‘CAB’)

The CAB also provides some excellent advice on how to make an NHS complaint and the processes that are involved. You can visit their website at

If you think that you may have a claim for medical negligence, or are not sure what to do next, our Medical Negligence Team would be pleased to speak with you. Details of how to contact us can be found here

Sam Durrant, Paralegal

July 2021