Responding to patient complaints

Whether they are made in person, by telephone or in writing - and however unfair they may seem - every complaint received needs to be acted upon quickly and courteously.

In both private and NHS practice, the emphasis is on local resolution. 

In England, if complainants remain dissatisfied with attempts to resolve their complaint locally they may refer it to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman for investigation.

GDC guidance

The GDC states, in its guidance Standards for the Dental Team (2013), that dental practices must have 'an effective complaints procedure readily available for patients to use, and follow that procedure at all times' (Standard 5.1) and give patients 'a copy of the complaints procedure when you acknowledge their complaint so that they understand the stages involved and the timescales' (paragraph 5.3.1).

Our advice

  • Listen carefully to your patient's grievances and show your concern.
  • Explain the findings of any investigation. Your patients may just want to understand what went wrong and be assured it won't happen again.
  • Consider offering remedial treatment free of charge, waiving or refunding your fees and/or offering an ex-gratia payment.
  • Contact your dental defence organisation. The DDU offers practical help to members, for example in drafting letters, and support in difficult times.
  • Act professionally at all times.
Both private and NHS patients can go directly to the GDC if they feel their complaint raises questions about a dental professional's fitness to practise. They may also start legal proceedings for clinical negligence. In these cases, contact your dental defence organisation as soon as you become aware of the matter.

This guidance was correct at publication . It 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.

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