Effective complaint handling

Handling complaints quickly and effectively is key to avoid the situation escalating.

The majority of complaints faced by DDU members, and that we help them deal with, are resolved at a local level - and an effective and swift complaints handling process is a key part of that.

If you receive a complaint, please contact us as soon as possible so we can offer advice to help avoid an escalation. We'll also need some information to help you, which is outlined in our guide on what to send us when you receive a complaint.

Our advice follows the general principles set out below.

  • The whole dental team should understand the practice complaints procedure, and regular training is essential.
  • Speed, sympathy and a willingness to listen can often be all that are needed to resolve concerns.

Be calm

Don't react defensively to complaints. They should be dealt with calmly, constructively and in line with the practice complaints procedure. GDC Standard 5.1.6 explains that a complaint can be an opportunity to improve your service, and you should share any lessons learned with all team members.

Dealing with complaints

  • Patients can complain verbally or in writing. The time limits for both the acknowledgement and the response vary between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You may also find our journal article on practice complaints procedures helpful.
  • As far as is reasonably practicable, help complainants to understand the complaints procedure or let them know how they can access independent complaints advocacy services - Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) in England, Community Health Council advocacy service in Wales, Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) in Scotland and the Patient and Client Council support service in Northern Ireland.
  • The GDC expects you to have a clearly written practice complaints procedure that is easy for patients to understand.
  • Keep a written record of all complaints, and file complaint correspondence and documentation separately from clinical records.

Verbal complaints

  • If a patient makes a verbal complaint, spend a few minutes discussing it there and then. If other patients are waiting, arrange a further meeting, video or phone call.
  • The staff member receiving the complaint should make a written record of it. Don't ask the patient to put it in writing themselves, as this can risk escalating the situation.
  • If a patient phones the surgery to complain, it could be helpful to arrange a face-to-face meeting or video call to discuss the matter. It may be more difficult to answer a complaint over the phone.
  • If a patient makes a verbal complaint, reassure them that whatever they say will be treated sensitively and in confidence, and will not prejudice their future care.

Respond effectively

  • A carefully worded response can often help prevent the complaint progressing further. Please contact us for advice, as we can help draft or check responses before you send them. See our guide to written responses for more information.
  • Address all the significant points raised by the patient, and offer a suitable solution for each one.
  • Consider what outcome the patient wants, and if in doubt, ask them to specify what they're seeking. Asking this does not commit you to providing anything they request.
  • If the patient is seeking financial compensation, contact us for advice.

Your complaints checklist

  • Is your team well trained in handling complaints, in accordance with your practice protocol?
  • Are your responses to complaints timely, professional, measured and sympathetic?
  • Have you offered the patient an initial discussion to plan the way forward?
  • Have you confirmed the agreed arrangement?
  • Have you provided a full, detailed response to the patient?
  • Has the complaint been signed or overseen by the responsible person, or someone with delegated authority?
  • Have you recorded what action has been taken in response to the complaint?

This page was correct at publication on 28/06/2022. Any guidance 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.