Introduction to the NHS and social care complaints procedure in England

Covering the basics of the NHS and social care complaints procedure in England.

The NHS and social care complaints procedure applies to all NHS bodies in England, as per the Local Authority Social Services and NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009.

The above applies to all dental settings providing NHS services, but general dental practitioners must also consider their requirements under the National Health Service (General Dental Services Contracts) Regulations 2005.


The purpose of the complaints procedure is to address complainants' concerns, in order to resolve complaints and identify changes that might be needed to improve the care provided.

Patients in England, or their representatives, can raise concerns about their NHS care within one year of the incident, or within one year of becoming aware of a problem. However, we advise you consider accepting complaints after this time so they can be managed locally.

Your responsibilities

  • Principle 5 of the GDC's Standards for the Dental Team requires all dental settings to have a clear and effective complaints procedure.
  • NHS dental service providers, including independent contractors, must comply with the NHS regulations by having a patient complaints procedure available that complies with the legislation.
  • All staff must have a good understanding of the complaints procedure and know how to handle and respond to complaints and concerns.
  • The service must have clear arrangements in place to provide leadership and a clear line of accountability for responding to complaints.
  • A responsible person - often a senior manager or practice principal - should ensure the service complies with the procedure. There must also be a complaints manager, who is accessible to the public.

Resolving complaints

The complaints procedure has two stages; local resolution, and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).

The complaints procedure places a great deal of emphasis on resolving complaints as quickly as possible.

Oral complaints that can be resolved satisfactorily within one working day do not fall within the regulations governing the procedure, and although they need to be recorded, they are not included in the practice's annual report on complaints.

Disciplinary action

The complaints procedure does not have a disciplinary function, but a complaint can result in disciplinary action. Where disciplinary action is contemplated against a dental professional who is also the subject of a complaint, the two processes should be treated entirely separately.

Negligence claims

NHS regulations do not require a complaint to be stopped if there is a claim for negligence. In many cases, it could be appropriate to continue with the complaint investigation. If you're a DDU member in this situation, contact us for advice.

Recording and reporting

The complaints manager should keep an up-to-date log of all complaints and how they were responded to. This should be recorded in a separate complaints file, not as part of patients' clinical records.

Practices must send a copy of their annual report on complaints to their local commissioning group. It must contain the number of complaints received, how many were considered to be well-founded, and how many were referred to the ombudsman.

Learning from complaints

All practices must have formal mechanisms in place to allow complaints to drive learning and improvement.

If there is a serious complaint, or a recurring theme in the subject matter of multiple complaints, then an investigation should be carried out. A report should include:

  • a summary of the subject matter of the complaint(s), excluding confidential information and confined to details of the nature of the complaint(s)
  • any matters of general importance arising from the complaints, (such as lessons learned), or from the way in which they were handled
  • improvements to services made as a result of the complaint.

How can we help?

The DDU has extensive experience in assisting members with complaints and we are happy to advise, assist and support at any stage of the complaints procedure.

For individual advice, call our dento-legal advice line on 0800 374 626, or read our guide on what to do if you've received a complaint.

This page was correct at publication on 01/02/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.