Written complaints in the NHS

We explore the amount of written complaints that health services in England receive.

What number of written complaints have been received, upheld and in relation to what services?

NHS written complaints table


The number of Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS) complaints has been increasing year on year since 2011/12; between 2013/14 and 2014/15 there was an increase by 5.7% (6,470 complaints). There isn't an equivalent increase in the number of complaints upheld over the same time period and it has remained fairly constant around 49-51%. However, this still means more complaints are upheld in 2014/15 (62,127 upheld complaints, 51.4% of all complaints) when compared to similar years (54,918 complaints were upheld in 2012/13, 50.2% of all complaints).

Within Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS) the largest increase can be seen for NHS England commissioning, which has seen the number of complaints increase by 40.4%. It is followed by other community health services and elderly (geriatric) services, which see increases in the number of complaints by 25.3% and 20.0% respectively. The largest decrease was for NHS Direct with 36.7% less complaints than in 2013/14, but this is based on comparatively very low numbers which will make it more sensitive to changes in total numbers. Over the years the largest number of complaints has been received in inpatient and outpatient hospital acute services, followed by mental health services.

Most complaints are received in the subject area 'All aspects of clinical treatment' with 53,438 complaints (44%) in 2014/15, an 8% increase since 2011/12. The next two largest subject areas in 2014/15 were complaints for 'Attitude of staff' (13,771) and 'Communication / information to patients (written and oral)' (12,439). These top three areas haven't changed since last year.

The total number of Family Health Services (FHS), including GP and dental, was 84,511 in 2014/15. This is an increase of 23,947 complaints from 2013/14, a 39.5% increase.

About this data

This annual collection is a count of written complaints made by (or on behalf of) patients. Data are collected via two forms: KO41a (NHS Hospital and Community Health Service (HCHS)); and KO41b (Family Health Service (GP including Dental)). The data relate to the complaints arrangements introduced in April 2009. 

Prior to 2013-14, FHS data was collected from Primary Care Trusts (PCTs).

In 2014-15 for the second successive year KO41b data (FHS) was collected from individual practices. Thus for 2014-15 a return rate is known, 94% GP and 83% Dental practices, in the previous year the return rate was 77% GP and 43% Dental. Due to the large increases in return rates between last year and this year any direct comparisons between 2014-15 data and previous years should be treated with caution. 

Prior to 2013-14 PCTs provided an aggregated PCT return and in 2012-13 65 PCTs highlighted that at least 1 practice in their area failed to provide a response, which means the overall return rate was unknown.

The figures for the number of FHS written complaints indicate a rise between 2012-13 and 2013-14. However, due to the unknown response rate for 2012-13, it is not possible to accurately establish if the increase is due to a genuine rise or due to a greater number of practices providing information in 2013-14. Therefore direct comparisons between 2013-14 data and previous years for FHS and any overall NHS written complaint totals (where HCHS and FHS figures are added together) should be treated with caution.

NHS HCHS data on its own is unaffected and year on year comparisons are possible.

Since 2011-12 collection an additional data item was added to the KO41 data returns, “Number of Complaints Upheld.” It is now possible to see how many complaints were upheld in addition to the number of complaints made to an organisation, which is not necessarily an accurate measure of performance. This was published as experimental statistics in 2011-12 and will continue to be classed as experimental statistics due to the wide variations and methods of collection adopted by different organisations. The upheld information is available at a national, regional and organisational level.

For more information see Health and Social Care Information Centre, Data on Written Complaints.


Add new comment