About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland provides information on complaints received by NHSScotland organisations from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

Main points

  • There was a 2% increase in the total number of NHSScotland complaints received in 2019/20 (32,438) compared to the previous year.
  • NHS Board complaints increased by 5% to 24,487, while NHS Board contractor complaints (including GP Practices) reduced by 6% to 7951.
  • The total number of complaints that were closed in 2019/20 by NHS boards went up by 4% (23,060). This does not include contractor data, withdrawn cases or cases where consent was not received.
  • Stage one (early resolution) complaints closed (11,581) accounted for 50% of overall complaints closed. This is an increase of 3% on the previous year.
  • Stage two (investigation) complaints closed (8,877) accounted for 39% of overall complaints closed, a decrease of 6% on the previous year.
  • The number of stage two escalated complaints closed (2,602) (those unable to be resolved at stage one) accounted for 11% of overall complaints, an increase of 3% on the previous year.
  • The number of complaints upheld at stage one (32%) reduced by 3%. The number upheld at stage two (32%) increased by 2% and stage two escalated (33%) showed no change on the previous year.
  • Within their agreed timescales, 80% of stage one complaints were closed on time (decrease of 1%), 54% of stage two complaints were closed on time (decrease of 3%) and 45% of stage two escalated complaints were closed on time (decrease of 10%).


This report provides information on NHSScotland complaints received about hospital and community health services, family health services and special boards and national and support organisations.

It includes the number of complaints received; the time taken to deal with complaints; issues raised; actions taken; service areas and staff groups who were the subject of complaints and the outcome of complaints.

2018/19 was the last public release as a National Statistic of NHS Complaints by ISD. From 2019/20 onwards, Public Health Scotland will produce an annual short statistical release and will provide links to all NHS Board complaints reports. Users will be consulted on the format and content of future releases.

The NHS Model Complaints Handling Procedure

Our complaints process provides two opportunities to resolve (close) complaints internally: Early resolution, and Investigation.

Stage One - Early Resolution (5 working days to resolve)

Early resolution aims to resolve straightforward complaints that require little or no investigation at the earliest opportunity. This should be as close to the point of service delivery as possible. Any member of staff may deal with complaints at this stage. In practice, early resolution means resolving the complaint at the first point of contact with the person making the complaint. This could mean a face-to-face discussion with the person, or it could mean asking an appropriate
member of staff to deal directly with the complaint. In either case, you may settle the complaint by providing an on-the-spot apology where appropriate, or explaining why the issue occurred and, where possible, what will be done to stop this happening again.

Stage Two Escalated (when a resolution at Stage One is not accepted)

A complaint must be handled at the investigation stage when early resolution was tried but the person making the complaint remains dissatisfied and requests an investigation into the complaint. This may be immediately on communicating the decision at the early resolution stage or could be some time later; or satisfactory early resolution will not be possible as the complainant has clearly insisted that an investigation be conducted.

Stage Two - Investigation (20 working days to resolve)

Complaints should be handled directly at the investigation stage, without first attempting early resolution, when:

  • the issues raised are complex and require detailed investigation; or
  • the complaint relates to serious, high-risk or high-profile issues.

Further information

For more information on Complaints data see the complaints section of the website.

The next release of this publication will be December 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.comms@phs.scot.

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If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

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Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 20 November 2023
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