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Number of written complaints about NHS increases 4.9 per cent

*NHS Digital1 must be quoted as the source of these figures

*Regional data are available within this report

 14 September 2017 

There were 208,400 written complaints received by the NHS during 2016/172 - up 4.9 per cent on the previous year, NHS Digital figures released today show.

The figures mean on average 571 written complaints were made every day.

The report, entitled Data on Written Complaints in the NHS, 2016/17, shows numbers of complaints about both primary and secondary care.

It shows a 9.7 per cent increase in written complaints to GP and dental practices4 compared with the previous year. In 2016/17, there were 90,600 primary care complaints, up from 82,600 in 2015/16.5

Around half (49.8 per cent) of the resolved6 complaints made to primary care providers were upheld. 37.5 per cent were fully upheld, 12.4 per cent were partially upheld7 and 50.2 per cent were not upheld.

Of the total number of primary care complaints involving a service area8, 83.2 per cent related to GP surgeries, while 14.6 per cent related to dental practices.9

The report shows there was a 1.4 per cent year-on-year increase in secondary care10 complaints with 117,800 complaints received in 2016/17, up from 116,200 in 2015/1611, but a smaller proportion of resolved secondary care complaints were fully upheld than the previous year.

In 2016/17, 35.8 per cent (40,100) of secondary care complaints were fully upheld, compared with 38.5 per cent (39,800) in 2015/16. The number of complaints partially upheld increased from 26.4 per cent (27,300) in 2015/16 to 28.9 per cent (32,300) in 2016/17.6

Further analysis of the report shows:

The areas with the highest overall percentage increases in all written complaints were:

  • Lancashire, which had 5,300 complaints compared with 4,600 the previous year - a 14.6 per cent increase
  • The West Midlands, which had 14,400 complaints compared with 13,000 the previous year - an 11.1 per cent increase
  • The North Midlands, which had 12,100 complaints compared with 11,100 the previous year - an 8.8 per cent increase
  • Yorkshire and Humber, which had 21,400 complaints compared with 19,700 the previous year - an 8.6 per cent increase

The total number of complaints fell in:

  • The South Central region, which had 11,500 complaints compared with 12,200 the previous year - down 6.2 per cent
  • The South West region, which had 11,700 complaints compared with 11,900 the previous year -  down 1.8 per cent
  • Cumbria and the North East, which had 9,700 complaints compared with 9,800 the previous year - down 0.6 per cent

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

The report provides a breakdown of secondary care complaints by profession, showing:

  • The medical profession were the subject of 66,500 (41.1 per cent) of the 161,700 written complaints made involving a profession. This is an increase of 7.4 per cent compared with 2015/16 when the number totalled 61,900. The medical profession received the greatest number of written complaints
  • The nursing profession received the second highest number of written complaints with 36,800 (22.7 per cent of all complaints involving a profession), an increase of 9.8 per cent on last year's total of 33,500
  • The highest percentage increase in written complaints by profession was a 25.4 per cent increase involving the Scientific, Therapeutic and Technical profession, which in 2016/17 totalled 5,600 (3.5 per cent of total complaints involving a profession). The total number of complaints involving this profession in 2015/16 was 4,500
  • The highest percentage decrease in written complaints by profession was a 7.6 per cent decrease for the Support to Clinical Staff profession, which in 2016/17 totalled 7,200 (4.4 per cent of total complaints involving a profession). The total number of complaints involving this profession in 2015/16 was 7,800


Both secondary and primary care data are available at site and practice level which can be accessed through the link below.

Read the full report  

Read the quarter of the 2017-18 HCHS quarterly report 

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.

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

3.      Figures are rounded to the nearest hundred; percentages rounded to one decimal place.

4.      From 2016-17 (i.e. this report) onwards the Primary Care data collection has been revised in format following a consultation. Because of the changes the 2016-17 Primary Care data are classed as 'Experimental Statistics' (more information is available within the Data Quality section of the report) and cannot be compared with previous years other than in comparing overall totals.

5.      This is the fourth year that Primary Care data have been collected from individual practices and return rates for 2016-17 are 97 per cent for GP and 87 per cent for Dental practices. As these are similar rates to the previous two years we are able to make comparisons back to 2014-15.  Differences with return rates for years earlier than this are too great to allow direct comparisons.

6.      Not all complaints made within a financial year are resolved within the same financial year. So some complaints that were resolved in 2016/17 will have been made in a previous period. Likewise, some complaints made in 2016/17 will not be resolved until a future period.

7.      It was recognised that simply counting the number of complaints made to an organisation did not indicate how an organisation was performing. From 2011-12 an additional data item, Number of Complaints Upheld, was added to the written complaints data returns, to assess the proportion of complaints that were upheld. From 2015-16 the HCHS data no longer collected upheld data against each service/subject/professional area. The Primary Care collection followed suit in 2016-17. Each organisation now records for overall complaints whether it was upheld/partially upheld/not upheld. We are therefore unable to make comparisons with previous year's data below the overall total.

8.      There were 92,449 complaints about service areas in primary care. A single written complaint can cover multiple subjects, service areas, and professions. This means the total number of written complaints involving a subject, service, or profession could be greater than the total number of written complaints.

9.      The remaining 2.2 per cent of primary care complaints were for other service areas; see Figure 9 on page 14 of the report.

10.   Secondary care complaints relate to Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS)

11.   From 2015-16 onwards the HCHS data collection has been revised in both format and frequency (from annual to quarterly). Because of these changes data at a more detailed level than an overall total figure are not comparable with years earlier than 2015/16. 2015-16 and 2016-17 HCHS data are classed as 'Experimental Statistics'.

12.   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.

13.   For media enquires please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888.



Last edited: 14 October 2020 9:42 am