Make complaining easy for patients 

It should be easy for patients who are unhappy about some aspect of their treatment to raise this with their treating dental professional or practice, the Dental Defence Union (DDU) said today.

NHS figures show there were over 14,000 complaints about NHS dental treatment alone in 2017/18, showing the importance of good complaints handling.

The DDU has produced a comprehensive guide to dealing with dental complaints in the latest issue of the DDU journal. Dental professionals can also gain one hour of CPD by testing their knowledge of complaints handling.

John Makin, Head of the DDU said:

Complaints are common and it’s vital to know how to respond to them professionally and appropriately. At the DDU, our dento-legal advisers help members respond to thousands of patient complaints each year. Our data indicates that around 90% of complaints can be resolved at practice level with our help.

“It cannot be over-emphasised that it is hugely important no obstacles are put in the path of a patient wishing to complain. Full details of the practice complaints procedure should be included on the practice website as well as in the practice information leaflet, and a notice should be displayed prominently at the practice reception and/or in the waiting area.

“If patients who wish to complain do not know about the practice procedure or think that complaints are not taken seriously, there is a high risk they will complain elsewhere. Once a complaint involves an outside body, dental professionals no longer have any control over how it is managed, and the risks of the complaint escalating increase.

“While dealing with a complaint may be somewhat stressful and time consuming, it is time and effort well spent to try to resolve concerns as quickly as possible to the satisfaction of all concerned.”

In the guide, Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, senior-dental legal adviser, suggests one or more of the following actions may help to satisfy a patient and resolve their complaint:

  • An expression of sympathy and empathy and a sincere apology where appropriate.
  • A purely factual resume of the clinical sequence that references the clinical records, to help remind the patient of events.
  • An explanation in plain language, so the patient understands what happened, why it happened and how it can be remedied.
  • An offer to meet the patient face-to-face to discuss matters.
  • An offer to treat the patient again and resolve the issue(s) they are complaining about.
  • An offer to refer the patient to a colleague in the practice for continuation of their treatment, so as to make a fresh start with a new face.
  • An offer to refer the patient to an independent consultant or specialist for a second opinion.
  • What action you have taken to learn from their complaint and prevent a recurrence.
  • If you think it’s appropriate, an offer to refund the whole or part of the fees, or to provide remedial treatment free-of-charge, as a gesture of goodwill. This will not in any way prejudice your position if the complaint cannot be resolved at practice level and an outside body becomes involved. Rather, it will show you to be a reasonable practitioner who has done their best to resolve the complaint.
  • Follow the link to test your knowledge and earn one hour of CPD using the DDU’s comprehensive guide to complaints at

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