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Number of written complaints about NHS falls by 4 per cent

15 September 2016

NHS Digital figures released today show there were 198,739 written complaints received over the last financial year2 - the equivalent of around 544 per day - which was 8,668 (4.2 per cent) fewer than in 2014-15.
*NHS Digital1 must be quoted as the source of these figures

*Regional data are available within this report

The NHS Digital annual report Data on Written Complaints in the NHS 2015-16 contains new details on who complained; what the complaints were about; where they were made; and whether the complaints were upheld.

In this report, written complaints have been collected in two forms: complaints about NHS Hospital and Community Health Service (HCHS)3, which includes hospital and ambulance trusts, and complaints about Family Health Service (FHS)4, which includes GP and dental services.

For the first time since 2010-11, the number of HCHS written complaints has fallen, dropping by 4,598 (3.8 per cent) from 120,778 in 2014-15, to 116,180 in 2015-16.

The number of FHS written complaints has also decreased, falling 4,070 (4.7 per cent) from 86,629 in 2014-15, to 82,559 in 2015-16.

A single written complaint can cover multiple subjects, service areas, and professions. This means the number of written complaints involving a subject, service, or profession could be greater than the total number of written complaints.

Data on Written Complaints in the NHS 2015-16 also shows5:


  • Of the 78,528 written complaints from someone whose age was known, 36.9 per cent were made by, or on behalf of, patients aged between 26 and 556
  • Medics were the subject of 61,899 (40.7 per cent) of the 152,244 written complaints received that related to a specific profession.7 The medical profession received the greatest number of written complaints, followed by the nursing profession, which received 33,513 written complaints (22.0 per cent)
  • There were 186,632 written complaints that related to a subject area of interest. The subject area that received the greatest number was communications, with 23,570 complaints being received (12.6 per cent). This was followed by patient care, including nutrition/hydration, with 19,283 complaints being received (10.3 per cent)
  • Of the 116,180 total written complaints made, 103,442 have been resolved. Of these, 38.5 per cent (39,817) were upheld, 26.4 per cent (27,323) were partially upheld, and 35.1 per cent (36,302) were not upheld8

For FHS:

  • Of the 82,559 written complaints involving a service area, medical services received the highest number of complaints at 31,815 (38.5 per cent), closely followed by practice administration at 31,475 (38.1 per cent)
  • Of the 84,738 written complaints received that related to a subject areas of interest, clinical care was the subject area with the largest number of complaints, at 31,559 (37.2 per cent). This was followed by communications and attitude with 19,387 (22.9 per cent) and practice administration with 19,001 (22.4 per cent)
  • 82,559 written complaints were received in total, and of those 33,553 (40.6 per cent) were upheld9
  • Both HCHS and FHS data are available at site and practice level in CSV files, which can be accessed through the link below

Read the full report at:

The first quarter of the 2016-17 HCHS quarterly report is also available today on the NHS Digital website at

Notes to editors
1. NHS Digital is the national information and technology provider for the health and care system. Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better. NHS Digital is the new trading name for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). We provide 'Information and Technology for better health and care'. Find out more about our role and remit at

2. Data cover 1 April to 31 March each year.

3. From 2015-16 onwards the frequency and details of the HCHS complaints collection has been revised in both format and frequency (from annual to a quarterly publication). Because of these changes, data below an overall total figure are not comparable with earlier years. As a result of the changes, the 2015-16 HCHS data are classed as 'Experimental Statistics'.

4. 2015-16 is the third year that (FHS) data have been collected from individual practices and return rates are: 92 per cent GP and 87 per cent Dental practices. As these are similar rates to last year (94 per cent GP and 83 per cent Dental) we are able to make comparisons between these two years. However, differences between return rates for earlier years are too great to allow comparisons.

5. Factors affecting the number of written complaints an organisation receives include:

  • Processes in place to resolve potential and verbal complaints before they escalate to written complaints. These include some organisations making staff available to discuss and resolve issues.
  • Staff making patients aware of other services, such as the Patient Advice and Liaison Service, known as PALS, which has been introduced to ensure that the NHS listens to patients, their relatives, carers and friends, and answers questions and resolves concerns as quickly as possible. They provide information about the NHS complaints procedure and how to get independent help if a further complaint is being considered.
  • Organisations have a responsibility to highlight the complaints procedures/processes and alternatives to patients, through a variety of methods including leaflets, poster adverts and through direct discussions with patients. This better awareness of the written complaints process may lead to more patients complaining.

6. The largest age band is 26 to 55-year-olds. This group made 25.0 per cent of all written complaints made, however 32.4 per cent of the total number of complaints made were made by or on behalf of people whose age was unknown.

7. The medical profession was the area that received the largest number of written complaints of all professions.

8. In the context of the HCHS-related written complaints: a complaint should be recorded and upheld if it relates to one specific issue and substantive evidence is found to support the complaint; a complaint should be recorded as partially upheld if it is made about several issues, and one or more, but not all are upheld; and a complaint should be recorded as not upheld if there is no evidence to support any aspects of the complaint made.

9. Upheld in this context means that if any or all of a complaint is well founded then it should be recorded as upheld locally. Data for the number of FHS written complaints that were partially upheld are currently unavailable. There is an aim to make these available in next year's annual publication.

10. For media enquiries please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888.

Last edited: 11 April 2018 5:38 pm