Introduction to the NHS and social care complaints procedure

The NHS and social care complaints procedure applies to all NHS bodies in England as per the Local Authority Social Services and NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009.

The purpose of the complaints procedure is to address complainants' concerns in order to resolve complaints and identify changes that may be needed to improve the care provided.

The complaints procedure has two stages; local resolution, and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).

Practice responsibilities

  • NHS regulations and the GDC's Standards for the Dental Team both require dental practices providing NHS services to publicise their complaints procedures and let patients know how they can complain.
  • All practice staff must have a good understanding of the complaints procedure and know how to handle and respond to complaints and concerns.
  • The practice must have clear arrangements in place to provide leadership and a clear line of accountability for responding to complaints.
  • A responsible person – often a senior partner – should ensure the practice complies with the procedure. There must also be a complaints manager, who is accessible to the public.

Resolving complaints

The complaints procedure places a great deal of emphasis on resolving complaints as quickly as possible.

Oral complaints that can be resolved satisfactorily within one working day do not fall within the regulations that govern the procedure, and although they need to be recorded, they are not included in the practice's annual report on complaints.

Keep a note of the complaint and your response, and make sure to keep it separate from the clinical records.

Disciplinary action

The complaints procedure does not have a disciplinary function, but a complaint can result in disciplinary action. Where disciplinary action is contemplated against a dental professional who is also the subject of a complaint, the two processes should be treated entirely separately.

Negligence claims

NHS regulations do not require a complaint to be stopped if there is a claim for negligence. In many cases, it could be appropriate to continue with the complaint investigation. If you're a DDU member in this situation, contact us for advice.

Learning from complaints

All practices must have formal mechanisms in place to allow complaints to drive learning and improvement.

Practices must send a copy of their annual report on complaints to their local commissioning group. It must contain the number of complaints received, how many were considered to be well-founded, and how many were referred to the Ombudsman.

The report should also contain:

  • a summary of the subject matter of complaints, excluding confidential information and confined to details of the nature of the complaint
  • any matters of general importance arising from the complaints, (such as lessons learned), or from the way in which they were handled
  • improvements to services made as a result of the complaint.

This guidance was correct at publication 09/01/2019. 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.

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