Effective complaint handling

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

The majority of complaints notified to the DDU by members seeking our assistance are resolved at a local level. If you receive a complaint, please contact us as soon as possible so we can offer advice to help avoid an escalation. Our advice will follow the general principles set out below.

  • The whole dental team, including 'front of house', should understand the practice complaints procedure, and regular training is essential.
  • There are many steps you can take to resolve a complaint quickly and efficiently.
  • 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 and constructively, in line with the local complaints procedure.

Dealing with complaints

  • All oral complaints not resolved within 24 hours, and all written complaints, should be acknowledged straight away and investigated promptly.
  • As far as is reasonably practicable, help complainants to understand the complaints procedure or let them know where they can find assistance, such as the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) or independent complaints advocates.
  • The GDC expects you to have a clearly written practice complaints procedure which is easy for patients to understand.
  • Keep a written record of all complaints. File complaint correspondence and documentation separately from clinical records.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) sets out six key principles central to good complaints handling. They are:

  • getting it right
  • being customer focused
  • being open and accountable
  • acting fairly and proportionately
  • putting things right
  • seeking continuous improvement.

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.
  • The member of staff receiving the complaint should make a written record of the complaint. 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, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter. It may be difficult to answer a complaint over the phone.
  • If a patient makes a complaint in person, encourage them to speak openly about their concerns. 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 the DDU, as we can help draft or check responses. See our guide to written responses for more information.
  • Make sure your response addresses all the significant points raised by the patients, and offers a suitable solution for each one.
  • Consider what outcome the patient wants from your response to the complaint. If in doubt, ask them to specify the outcome they are seeking.
  • If the complaint concerns dissatisfaction with some aspect of treatment, as a gesture of goodwill you may choose to waive or refund the fee, particularly if the treatment outcome has been unsatisfactory.
  • You may also offer remedial treatment free of charge. Such an offer should not prejudice your position in the event of a claim for clinical negligence, and may well help to resolve the complaint.
  • 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 in tone?
  • Have you offered the patient an initial discussion to plan the investigation?
  • Have you confirmed the agreed arrangement?
  • Have you provided a full, detailed response to the patient?
  • Has the complaint been signed by the responsible person, or someone with delegated authority?
  • Have you recorded the action taken in responding to a complaint?

This guidance was correct at publication 15/04/2019. 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.

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