Complaints in the private sector

Complaints arising from independent practice are handled similarly to those in the NHS, but there are some distinctions to be aware of.

There is more than one channel through which patients can make complaints about care, treatment, or service in the independent healthcare sector.

As with NHS patients, it's important to make every reasonable effort to resolve complaints about private treatment at practice level (local resolution).

  • You should address complaints from NHS and private patients in the same way through the practice.
  • Make sure you have an in-house complaints procedure in place that mirrors the one you have for NHS patients, and make this readily accessible to patients.

The Dental Complaints Service (DCS)

Patients who have not succeeded in resolving a complaint about their private dental treatment, care or service with the practice itself can escalate their complaint to the DCS.

DCS advisers try to resolve all complaints impartially, fairly, efficiently, transparently and quickly, encouraging dental professionals and patients to restore their relationship.

The DCS is strongly in favour of local resolution and refers almost three quarters of complaints back to dental practices. Most of these are resolved satisfactorily by the practice and fewer than one-fifth are returned to the DCS.

If informal resolution is impossible, the DCS can refer complains to a meeting facilitated by a panel of three trained volunteers; two lay and one dental professional.

At present, dental professionals are not permitted to have a DDU representative at a DCS panel hearing. We do not agree with this rule, but fortunately only 1% of complaints reach panel hearings.


The DCS was set up in 2006 and is funded by the GDC using the annual retention fee and is intended to operate at arm's length to it. However, the DCS can refer a dental professional to the GDC's fitness to practise where the concerns are thought to be sufficiently serious.

Separate to the complaints procedure, any patient dissatisfied with treatment - whether NHS or private - can complain directly to the GDC. They can allege that the matter raises questions about the dental professional's fitness to practise, raise concerns with a regulator (such as CQC) or pursue the matter through legal proceedings for clinical negligence - or all of the above.

This guidance was correct at publication 10/01/2019. 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.

You may also be interested in

Case study

The lost post

In the mid-1990s a general dental practitioner member examined a male patient with a heavily restored dentition. The patient had porcelain jacket crowns on both upper central incisor teeth. Radiographs taken three years later showed these teeth to have been restored using tapered cast posts supporting the overlying crowns.

Read more
Case study

Retained root fragment following extraction

A DDU member's clinical notes were a vital part of a successful defence of a claim brought against them by a patient who was left with a root fragment in their distal socket following a root canal and extraction.

Read more
Podcast and video

Dealing with dental complaints

Knowing how to deal with a complaint appropriately can help resolve it quickly and to the patient’s satisfaction, as Dr Leo Briggs explains.

Read more