Feedback, complaints and your rights

The Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities (the ‘charter’) summarises what you're entitled to when you:

  • use NHS services
  • receive NHS care in Scotland

It also covers what you can do if you feel that your rights have not been respected.


When receiving NHS care, you or any of your relatives have the right to:

  • give feedback
  • make comments
  • raise concerns
  • make a complaint

The NHS welcomes all forms of feedback and uses it to improve services. Good feedback can help to identify areas of best practice. Negative feedback can help to identify areas of concern. It also ensures that action is taken so that the same problems do not happen again.

Giving feedback

You have the right to be given information about how to give feedback, make comments, raise concerns, or make a complaint about the care you have received and the services you have used. You also have the right to be informed about how any feedback, comments, concerns and complaints you make will be handled.

To give feedback or make a complaint you can:

  • speak to a member of staff – this can be the best way to give feedback and resolve issues quickly
  • contact your NHS health board by phone, email or online

You can also give your feedback by sharing your experience on the Care Opinion website.  This is an independent, non-profit organisation. It enables people to post public, but anonymous, stories about the health and care services that they, or someone they know, have received.

We understand that you may feel frustrated or upset, and want to feed that back to us. Please keep in mind we have a duty of care to staff, as well as our service users, therefore we do not tolerate abusive or offensive language. This is aligned with Scotland's Zero Tolerance Policy.

Advice and support

You have the right to independent advice and support when providing feedback or making a complaint.

You may ask (and if you have a mental health disorder you have a right) to have an independent advocate to help you give your views.

You can contact the Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) for independent advice and support when making a complaint.

PASS offers free and confidential information, advice and support to anyone who uses the NHS in Scotland.

PASS is a service offered by Citizens Advice Scotland. They can provide information, advice and support to:

  • help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a patient
  • help you access the treatment care and support you need
  • provide feedback, comments, concerns or complaints about the NHS

PASS can be accessed at any Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland.

Find out where to access the PASS across Scotland


Mediation is a service where independent mediators help the relevant parties to reach an agreement.

You can request, or health boards may offer, to provide this service. Both parties must agree to take part before this can go ahead.

You can get help finding mediation services in your area by asking the Feedback and Complaints Officer at your local health board.

NHS complaints procedure

If you can, first talk to a member of staff involved in your care. If you do this, they can try to sort out your complaint on the spot.

If you can't or you do not wish to do this, you can ask to speak to:

  • a senior member of staff, or
  • the Feedback and Complaints Officer for the NHS organisation involved

If you prefer to complain in writing rather than in person or over the phone, you can send a letter or an email to the relevant NHS organisation.

Further advice if your complaint is about a GP, pharmacy, dentist or hospital

What to include in your complaint

When complaining, you should give:

  • your full name and address (and the patient’s full name and address if you are complaining for them)
  • as much helpful information as possible about what happened, where it happened and when
  • information about how you want the matter to be resolved
  • your phone number, if you are happy to provide it, so that you can be contacted to discuss your complaint

Giving this information will help clearly identify the problem and what needs to do to resolve things.

If you're complaining on behalf of another competent adult, you may need proof (consent) that you can act behalf of them. Whether you need to do this will depend on the circumstances.

How long have I got to make a complaint?

The NHS has a time limit for accepting complaints.

Normally, you must make your complaint within 6 months of the event you want to complain about, or within 6 months of finding out that you have a reason to complain, but no longer than 12 months after the event itself.

However, if you feel the time limit should not apply to your complaint, please speak to the person dealing with it. A complaint can sometimes be accepted after the time limit.

You can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman about an NHS decision not to accept your complaint.

What if I change my mind after I’ve complained?

You can change your mind about making a complaint at any time. Please let the person handling your complaint know as soon as possible.

When will I get a full response?

You have the right to be told the outcome of any investigation into your concerns or complaints. Staff will write to you with a full response within 20 working days of receiving your complaint at the investigation stage. This response should:

  • show that staff have looked into your complaint
  • reply to all the points you made
  • offer you an apology if things have gone wrong
  • explain what action has been taken or will be taken to stop what you complained about happening again
  • if necessary, explain why the NHS cannot do anything more about some parts of your complaint
  • offer you the chance to talk to a member of staff if there is anything in the letter you don’t understand

In some cases, the NHS may need more time to give you a full response and may not be able to keep to these times. If this happens, staff will let you know and tell you why.

What if I’m not happy about the way the NHS has handled my complaint?

If the NHS has fully investigated your complaint and you’re still not happy, you can ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to look at it.

The Ombudsman can't normally look at:

  • a complaint that has not completed the complaints procedure
  • events that happened, or that you became aware of, more than 12 months ago
  • a matter that has been or is being considered in court


When making a complaint or raising a concern you can expect:

  • it to be dealt with efficiently and be properly investigated
  • a full explanation into how it has been investigated
  • to be told what action has been or will be taken as a result
  • an apology if a mistake has occurred
  • the NHS to use your feedback to improve services

Patient Experience Programme

The Patient Experience Programme supports NHS Scotland in developing ways to use patients’ experiences. This helps to inform service design and planning across the health service and drives improvement.

As part of this, NHS health boards involve patients in providing feedback on their experiences of care. This is done through a range of ways, including:

  • local surveys
  • interviews
  • group discussions

In addition, there are 4 national experience surveys. These provide information on the quality of health and care services from the perspective of those using them. These national surveys allow NHS health boards to:

  • compare with other areas of Scotland
  • track their progress in improving the experience of patients

The 4 national surveys are:

Duty of candour

If something goes wrong with your treatment or care, health and social care organisations have a duty to you or the person acting on your behalf to:

  • apologise
  • be open and honest
  • involve you in a review of what happened
  • let you know how they will learn from what has happened

Read more about duty of candour

Clinical negligence

You have the right to take legal action and make a claim for compensation if you've been harmed by negligent treatment.

Negligent treatment is established where:

  1. A patient can evidence that they were provided with sub-standard treatment which no other ordinarily competent healthcare professional in the relevant field would have provided, and
  2. This treatment has caused physical or psychological harm, or led to the death of the patient.

You may be entitled to compensation if you can prove you have been harmed by a negligent act. If you think you may be entitled to compensation, you should seek legal advice.

The Law Society of Scotland has details of solicitors who specialise in handling negligence claims.

Concerns about your data

If your complaint is related to concerns about your health records, you have the right to take your complaint to the Information Commissioner's Office.

Judicial review

A judicial review is a court process that allows you to challenge a decision made by an NHS body because you think it is unlawful. It looks primarily at how a decision was made rather than what was decided.

You have the right to seek judicial review if your personal interests are affected by the decision or action of the board.

If you want a decision to be judicially reviewed, you should seek independent legal advice.

Last updated:
10 May 2023