National Ombudsmen
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Older generations most likely to use the NHS but least likely to complain if unhappy

Those most likely to have used the NHS during the pandemic are least likely to have complained if they were unhappy with the service, according to a new survey.

The survey by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found that:

  • Over 6 in 10 of over 55-year-olds (66%) used or came into contact with the NHS during the pandemic, compared to 57% of under-55s.
  • A quarter of over 55s (25%) would’ve complained during the pandemic if they were unhappy with the service. This number fell to 22% for those aged over 65 and rose to 34% for under 55s.
  • Over 4 in 10 of over 55s (44%) said they would complain now if unhappy, again this number fell to 41% for over 65s, and rose to 48% for under 55s.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens recently said:

“The NHS was under enormous pressure and strain during the pandemic and the public rightly supported all their hard work. The hesitancy to complain during the pandemic is no doubt connected to the public’s understanding of and respect for the NHS at the time.

"However, it’s vital that lessons are learned about how to improve our health services both in normal and extraordinary circumstances, especially as another pandemic or national emergency is inevitable at some stage.

“It’s vitally important that the biggest users of the NHS make sure their voices are heard. Complaints form an essential part of learning and can have life-changing consequences. Feedback from patients can lead to systemic reform and potentially help to avoid unnecessary deaths.

“I urge all public bodies, not just those in health, to ensure they are doing all they can to make it easy for people to complain and to welcome those complaints as a way to develop their services.”

The survey of 2,087 people was conducted by Yonder Research in August 2022. The results also revealed that:

  • Those who are employed were least likely to use the NHS during the pandemic when compared to those who are unemployed (58% vs 64%). Despite using the NHS less, those in employment were more likely to complain than those not in employment (33% vs 26%).
  • Those living in rural areas were less likely to complain (21% compared to 33%) than those living in urban areas.
  • Those who earned less than £14k per year were less likely to use the NHS during the pandemic (61% compared to 66%) and less likely to complain (31% compared to 39%) compared to those who earned between £41k and £55k.
  • Those with more formal education were more likely to use the NHS during the pandemic (66% compared to 57%) and more likely to complain (39% compared to 28%) compared to those with no formal education or educated to primary or secondary level.

PHSO has worked with organisations across the health and care sector in England to create a new set of Complaint Standards. These are currently being rolled rolled out across the NHS to provide guidance on how to handle complaints. The Standards will help organisations provide a quicker, simpler and more streamlined complaint handling service, with a strong focus on early resolution.

How we carried out the research

Yonder (formerly Populus) conducted an online sample of 2,087 GB/UK adults aged 18+ between 8 and 9 August 2022.  Data is weighted to be representative of the population of Great Britain. Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the PAMCO survey, a random probability F2F survey conducted annually with 35,000 adults. Yonder is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by it rules.  For further information see  

Read the full survey results.


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