/ Health

Have you ever complained about your doctor or hospital?

People leaving hospital

One year on from the Francis Inquiry, there are still significant problems with consumers choosing not to complain about public services because they don’t know who to complain to or think nothing will be done.

With public service reform high on the policy agenda, our research shows more needs to be done to ensure consumers feel empowered and their voices are heard.

We’ve found there are three key reasons why people do not complain when they have a problem with public services: scepticism that their complaint will have any impact, fear of repercussions, and lack of understanding about how to complain.

Will complaining about my doctor really help?

Four in 10 people who had had a recent problem with a specialist consultant in a hospital did not complain. Of these, almost six in 10 said the reason was that they thought nothing would be done and four in 10 thought it wouldn’t be worth the effort.

A third of people said that they were worried complaining might lead to worse service or treatment for them or their family member and 27% said gave the same reason for not complaining about a GP. One in five didn’t complain when they had a problem with a specialist consultant because they didn’t know how to complain or who to complain to.

The best private sector organisations actively encourage and welcome feedback so it’s worrying to see so many barriers to consumers speaking up in public services.

And it’s not just within the NHS. Just two thirds (65%) of those who had cause to complain about an NHS service in the last year did so, and a similar percentage (69%) complained about another Government service such as the DVLA or HMRC. Yet 90% of people complained about a high street retailer when in a similar situation, 89% about a bank or tradesperson and 83% about an energy supplier.

Our research has also shown that people’s fears that they won’t be listened to are perhaps justified as, even when people do complain, perceived resolution of complaints is lower in public services. Almost six in 10 people who complained to an NHS or Government service felt their complaint was not resolved at the initial stage, in comparison with 42% for energy suppliers and banks and 30% for high street retailers.

Inspect services with high levels of complaints

While the Government has announced new measures around complaints since the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, Which? is calling for three further steps to be taken to help drive up consumer power in public services:

  • An automatic trigger for regulators to inspect any service with abnormally high levels of unresolved consumer complaints or where users demand an inspection.
  • A single public services ombudsman should be introduced so consumers know exactly where to take their complaint.
  • Super complaint powers expanded and strengthened to the equivalent of those in private markets.

It’s clear that more must be done to ensure that patients and their families use their power to help drive up standards in public services. Hearing feedback from people is essential to deliver the high standards that we all deserve. We need to see changes across all public services to improve complaints handling and give people the confidence that their voices will be both heard and acted upon.


A few years ago I did make a complaint about my local GP, but I have to admit I didn’t really do anything about it. I didn’t really know much about complaining & it felt like too much work.

But now, in 2014, I know how to kick-off and make a complaint so if it happened now then I would take the complaint as far as i possibly could, as I have learned how to complain and win. Stuff that I didn’t know a few years ago.

When my dad went in for a triple heart bypass a few years ago, that part of his stay went fine. What we have issues with were, they knew he was a type 2 diabetic yet they still insisted on feeding him the same swill as everyone else. That wouldn’t have been a problem if it was wholemeal rolls, non sugary drinks, puddings etc. But when you raise the issue with staff, it was we’re the NHS we know what we’re doing, well they certainly didn’t cos when it was time for him to leave they couldn’t work out why his blood sugar level was sky high. My mum has been feeding him and his diabetes for over 20 years and not once has his blood sugar level reached that high. So he ended up staying in for an extra 2 weeks, will they tried to work out what was up. In the end he ignored the food the hospital provided and was only eating the food smuggled in by my mum. Funnily his blood sugar returned to normal. He wasn’t helped by being inactive but surely the NHS should know all that stuff, and they should certainly listen to their “customers”. They’re not as bright as they’d have you believe.

In their drive to cut costs, they end up wasting more because of the cheap poor nutritional sugar enriched food they serve.

About 5 years ago I had terrible IBS (trust me it was terrible) and in addition ended up having a nervous breakdown (not due to the IBS but I’d bet it was the same reason for the IBS), in all my visits to the doctor all they focused on was my weight. Well my weight hasn’t changed but I’m now no longer employed, and guess what I’ve been IBS and breakdown free for over 3 years now. I knew it was work but the doctor wasn’t interested in that.

Reminds me of a cartoon I once saw, large man goes into a doctors surgery with a gunshot wound. Doctor says “lose some weight and you’ll be fine in no time”.

Completely missing the obvious.

Campbell McPherson says:
15 February 2014

This is typical of the NHS. In the Italian medical system (at least in good hospitals) your diet is strictly controlled according to your medical condition and -if relevant- the surgery.

I had a gall bladder operation a couple of years ago and – disregarding the small issue of a massive infection- my Italian wife was horrified to find me being stuffed with fatty foods the day after the op.

Try complaining? It gives a new meaning to arrogance

When my GP retired she was replaced by a new GP. I was very disappointed that the new GP gave some advice that I knew to be wrong and also failed to complete a ‘yellow card’ to report a potential problem with a new drug. I should have complained about these and other issues but I was not aware of the procedure at the time, so just switched my GP.

That was years ago, but the GP mentioned above is still practising and I have heard of many complaints by others. There are some bad reviews about the GP and surgery on the NHS website.

I chose my present GP surgery based on recommendations and have not been disappointed. The reviews on the NHS website are good too.

My daughter had a very poor consultation with one doctor at our health centre. Back home she complained to the health centre manager who had another doctor phone her; he correctly diagnosed her problem with reference to a website that matched her symptoms. Complaining informally to your practice management is a good place to start.

I was advised to do this, but when I called the surgery and requested a consultation I was refused – I have been complaining vehemently regarding a massive weight gain of 8 stone!! – now my legs have increased in size four fold – I walk 70 miles per month with my little dog and I have been told the massive weight gain in my legs is due to extra muscle – I am completely at my wits end as to know where to go next – I feel I am being drugged without my consent – and that there are those that are doing this maliciously – either the doctors are lying to me or they are being lied to themselves – my doctors have a very good standing and personally are very pleasant people but 8 stone weight gain and morbidly obese – a life time of exercise including yoga walking, sports clubs, jogging and eating health foods (not over eating health foods as it has been stated as an explanation – I would welcome any suggestions as to where might turn for a credible explanation – the ultr sound – and numerous other scans and blood tests I am told are all “normal”

You need to change surgery. Anyone is able to do this. You don’t have to give an explanation. There are also options to see a private GP, just once to try and find out what is going on. Check out the side-effects of any medicines you’ve been prescribed. You can look online also yourself to see the side-effects and even speak to the drug company customer services and explain the situation.

Debra Barlow says:
10 February 2014

I tried to complain about my GP after I’d ended up seriously ill in hospital when my GP had refused to visit me at home. I wrote a complaint to the practice and was invited to a meeting. It was explained to me that if I took the complaint further I would need to seek another surgery as my complaint was deemed against the practice. I felt I was on a hiding to nothing as the GP clearly stated that though he accepted and was sorry I’d become so ill it was primarily up to me to demand a home visit. It was clear neither he nor he practice was going to accept any responsibility and as I was still recovering and am now left with life changing problems I didn’t have the strength to continue

emma says:
2 March 2014

There are too many people going into the profession for just the money. Becoming a GP is a nice option as a lot of surgeries work office hours and have locums working the evening and weekend shifts. It really shows a lack of care. If they then do something wrong as in your case Debra they do not have the courtesy to say sorry but act high and mighty and have a how do you dare to complain attitude. So you are left wondering what to do. Your treatment was appalling and an apology would have been in order but they feel they are above the rest of us and at the same time are worried you might file a claim. Feels like a no win situation.

@ emma

If I have any doubt abt the treatment that I receive,
I shall not hesitate to insist on referral to consultant
for an independent opinion and for better expertise…. no longer
shall put up trying medication A if not B, C and so on that practices
are keen to encourage… downside is this may require
a long wait unless time is very much of the essence.

Argonaut, I suspect many older people remember days when the doctor was a bit of a god, and you took his advice at face value and didn’t challenge him. Now, with better knowledge and the internet, we know a bit more ourselves (often dangerous!) but can discuss with our doctor. Our experience has been good in this respect – second opinion no problem, who would you like to consult? – participation welcomed by our doctor. Happy to discuss alternative treatments or drugs. And, if necessary, being a little firmer moved things on. Maybe we are lucky, but I think better informed patients who are prepared to stand their ground have more success than those who don’t.

Compared with my experience, you have indeed been “lucky”, Malcolm R.

I have been a “better informed patient, prepared to stand my ground” for many years and for my efforts been repeatedly shown the door with yet more more ambiguous and damaging innuendo added to my so-called medical history.

At our local health centre we have a PPG (Patients Participation Group) which is run in conjunction with GP’s and patients. It is operated on-line and we receive regular bulletins and questionnaires to answer about any grievances or suggestions which may improve the general running of the practice.

My main concern regarding the NHS is the way in which it is gradually being “sold off” to the private sector. Public funding is increasingly being paid into private companies who are accountable to their shareholders at the expense of our NHS hospitals.

[This comment has been edited to remove an external link. Thanks, mods.]

In November 2009 I made comments on an NHS website about hygiene and privacy at my gp surgery. The practice posted a response 3 1/2 years later!

Some years ago I realised that an elderly relative was being given an inappropriate drug when in hospital. I reported this to two nurses and two GPs during my visits, but no action was taken. Eventually, after discussing the matter with a relative with medical training I amended the patient’s drug sheet. When I next visited I was told that my relative had been suffering a problem, but would probably recover now that one of the drugs had been withdrawn.

I don’t want to give more details on a public forum.

A couple of months ago it was announced that patients would get a named doctor to oversee their care when in hospital.

I would suggest that that they need to extend that to the Intermediate care teams, I’ve heard of one patient who after 5 months of immediate care got so fed up of not knowing who was visiting her that day, that the care was removed.

My mother has had 5 different carers over 2 days since her problems at the weekend. Fortunately she can cope with the changes but not everyone can.

Intrigued by this “named doctor” business. Almost 10 years ago there was a “named nurse” in hospital system. Unfortunately in our experience the named nurse was only seen on the day of admission. There were also two teams of nurses – a blue team and a red team. They swapped around and so they got to see different patients but unfortunately this meant that there was no continuity of care.

The reason that many people, including those actually working in the NHS, do not compain about standards of care is fear of retribution.

Within the civil aviation sector there is a system known as CHIRP (Confidential Human factors Incident Reporting Programme, see http://www.chirp.co.uk) which enables those working in the area to report problems, particularly those relating to safety, without fear of retribution. Control of CHIRP is through a charitable trust in order to ensure independence and confidentiality. Once a problem has been resolved the results are published in freely available newsletters, anyone can download them from the web. Perhaps it should be added that those making reports are required to identify themselves although this information is never passed on.

The existence of such a system means that people working in the sector are more likely to report problems. There is also a similar system in the marine sector known as the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme.

Is it not possible to come up with a system on these lines for the NHS, and other public bodies for that matter, so that staff and patients/relatives are able to report problems in confidence? It is necessary to emphasise that any such system must be independent in order to ensure confidentiality; that investigations should be rigorous; and that reports on problems and solutions should be made freely available to the public. Failure to meet these criteria would mean that those with problems to report would not trust the integrity of the system.

Frank says:
14 February 2014

about 20 years ago, just after John Major announced the citizen’s charter I complained about my GP.
I was unceremoniously told to leave the group practice and the first new practise I applied to rejected me. Word must have got around.
I asked my Chiropractor to recommend a GP and I have been happy with them since.

If your complaint [ to the GMC] falls into a certain category, it will be solved ” inhouse” and you will not be informed of subsequent liability to you. If its too dangerous to persue in that manner then liability will presumably[reluctantly] be admitted.

I did try to complain about theb ad service my brother received from both nursing/medical and social work staff when he was in hospital..The internal social services discussion was very [poor, When I went to go to Ombudsman I was then told i would first need a response from the hospital satff. But Social Services kept sending documents to a non-existenty address. So it was more than a year later than t I received a very vague response from the hospital. then i was told social Services had the right to ask for an independent inspection before i could send documents for full appraisal by Ombudsman. My brother’s daughter gave up at that point and I felt unable to carry on especially as i was a Social Worker in that Social Services authority!
When my brother went in again into hospital 18 months later the treatmentt was even worse (by now he had leg removed because of complications around not taking diabetic meds) once he ended up on a ‘back ward’. One day he had had a stroke (classic symptoms of total loss of movement down one side of body etc) – staff then queried whether he had come into hospital 5 months before with that paralysis ! If I requested treatment for pain on his behalf (he had severe dementia which affected hiss communication) staff would try to postpone it if they were in handover. After one handover two staff were trying to ‘force down’ food to my brother stating that he was ‘in a rehab ward and needed to do more for himself ..’. yet only 3 days later the medic told my brother’s daughter that he was dying and would need palliative care .Because treatment re touch of gangrene on toes had been delayed my brother died with his one remaining leg completely covered in gangrene tissue . The only saving grace was that hsi dter and I had declined to accept the proffered care home and he spent his last weeks in a better quality home local to his family.
But what was the use of complaining after he had gone ! My brother’s daughter and I had had to fight all along the way just to get any kind of real compassionate treatment, With hindsight I should have more vigorously complained but i had not wished to cut across my brother’s daughter who was fighting hard on her father’s behalf.
Several other people I know have tried to compalin about care afforded elderly relatives – i would be frankly scared to go into hospital when I am older if i needed even a short stay as in-patient.

Satisfied says:
14 February 2014

We have had to fight several times to keep our two local hospitals open when the local health board has tried to down grade or shut them down all together on the advice of consultants who come from cities and know nothing of rural and very rural areas. Despite spending millions on new building work.However whilst they are not perfect the oncology ward staff are caring compassionate and very supportive of relatives and the staff at our local palliative care hospital can only be described as darlings. Taking care or me as well as my dying wife. I can only describe the care as brilliant.
Our local surgery will give you a same day appointment if you think you really think you need to see a doctor. My sister in law and granddaughter living in Reding and London tell me they have to wait at least a week to get an appointment! No wonder A&E depts are overfull

Lynn Miller says:
14 February 2014

In December 2013 I was taken into Hospital in Portugal,and experienced a very caring attitude from the staff and Doctors, but came away realising how lucky we are here in Britain. They are run off thier feet, obviously under funded and have a huge work load. Families have to come in to feed and also wash older patients.
It could happen here ! I feel we should demand closer supervision of all medical staff., and after reading “Which” reports of accepted working pratices here that this could very well happen if there isn’t closer scutiny of Hospital pratices that appear to have deteriorated over the last 10 years. .I strongly feel that “Bringback the matrons to officiate the wards could well be the answer” Quality nursing is needed and compassion I don’t want to think that as I get older I will be scared of being “over-looked”! as seems to be the trend these days.

Charlotte says:
14 February 2014

I’ve only had very bad experiences with the NHS I’m sorry to say. My father may have died because his GP wouldn’t take his symptoms seriously. When a man has not been to the doctors in over 20 years and comes at last saying he doesn’t feel well, has moderate to severe, persistent abdominal pain, alternating loose and compacted stools and has lost about a stone in weight without trying, it is really worth listening to him. Instead the GP repeatedly fobbed him off, diagnosing stress. After 3 months he finally got an ultrasound appointment. Although they found a mass so large it was almost causing a bowel obstruction, which would have been a critical emergency, they did not share the results with my father and told him the consultant would discuss this with him at an appointment, which would be set by letter. The letter arrived for a date a month later but a few days before that appointment a letter came saying the appointment had been moved to a month later. When the consultant saw the images he booked him in for an operation 2 days later but it was too late. The cancer had spread and he died. Bowel cancer is very treatable if caught in the early stages being made to wait 5 months for treatment, two of which was after a massive mass had been seen, cost him his life. In my view this is as good as murder.

I have nothing but praise for our specialist hospital. They care, are proactive, have the time you need for proper consultations and treat patients as if they want to help them. They actually suggest things they can offer to improve your condition! Is that unique? I doubt it. Someone needs to look at why some hospitals are apparently dismal failures whilst others shine. Meantime, let’s not stoke the British disease of total gloom and doom. Anyone else got good experiences? Perhaps we are not alone?

OK, here is praise for a GP, even if it is historical.

For some years I had an amazing GP. I could turn up any morning before 10am and be seen, without an appointment, if I was prepared to wait. The young GP was remarkably well informed and up-to-date about the subjects I consulted him on, and gave me great confidence. He had an amazing memory and could remember information without looking at my notes if I turned up without an appointment. It reminded me of the personal treatment that you can expect from a private consultant. His practice had two nurses that worked part-time. Each time he was away on holiday, the same locum doctor took over.

Sadly, the Primary Care Trust decided to close the practice because patients – mainly students – had to go upstairs to see the nurse and the computer equipment was behind the times. I found myself part of a protest group of patients who demanded a meeting with the PCT, to no avail. Many of the protesters had been with the poor GP I mentioned earlier and had moved when the young man set up his practice nearby.

After two more moves I am now with a well respected local practice that continues to impress me, even if it is impersonal compared with the treatment I used to receive.

whitehorse says:
15 February 2014

i m having a battle with the GP of an elderly parent diagnosed with Dementia, who went to assess for mental capacity. On the first visit he decided Mental Capacity was lacking, but then a matter of weeks later decided that there WAS Mental Capacity. Although I know that people with Dementia have good and bad days the predicament that I am now in as regards being able to run her affairs and pay for a Care Home is impossible. The worry of it all is affecting my own health. I complained to the GP and to the Practice Manager but was just met with a brick wall. I was refused a second opinion, repeat visit to confirm the diagnosis, or referral to a specialist, and not one bit of understanding has been showed. I have been misled by the Practice and disappointed by their devious handling of this case. They can afford to be guided by a legal department but I cannot.

Jennifer Davidson says:
16 February 2014

I liveinAsia and keep intouchwith a friend in uk who is 90. And lives alone in uk
She has anumber of problems difficulty. Mobilising ,bladder infections , inability to dress and undress, etc
She has to pay carers to visit to attend to her dressing and washing needs ,house cleaning, shopping, In short activities of daily living.

From time to time she needs medical visits but these are rare, and no one has assessed the situation. This week after waiting for months with toothache someone turned up at the house and confirmed the fact but offered no solution to her inability to get to a dental practise

Her life is a misery to her and when I telephone her each week she says she wishes she were dead

As she gets no response to her needs or problems .

Every contacts she has requires payment .Last year she. Hadto visit a clinic and see a consultant
Re her urinary problem Tne visit tot necklines a few lies away cost her £1000 !

I believe she is being abused by the system and consider it a disgrace

Jennifer Davidson says:
16 February 2014


Her visit to a clinic a few miles away cost£1000!