Introduction to the NHS complaints procedure in Scotland

Covering the basics of the NHS complaints procedure in Scotland.

The NHS complaints procedure applies to all NHS bodies in Scotland, as per the Patient Rights (Complaints Procedure and Consequential Provisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2012, in support of the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011.

The above applies to all dental settings providing NHS services, however general dental practitioners must also consider their requirements under The National Health Service (General Dental Services) (Scotland) Regulations 2010.


The purpose of a complaints procedure is to invite feedback, resolve any concerns, and identify changes that might be needed to improve the care provided.

Patients in Scotland, or their representatives, can raise concerns about their NHS care within six months of the incident, or within six months of becoming aware of a problem. However, we advise you consider accepting complaints after this time so that they can be managed locally.

Your responsibilities

  • Principle 5 of the GDC's Standards for the Dental Team requires all dental settings to have a clear and effective complaint's procedure.
  • NHS dental service providers, including independent contractors, must comply with the NHS regulations by having a patient complaints procedure available, that complies with the legislation.
  • All staff must have a good understanding of the complaints procedure and know how to handle and respond to complaints and concerns.
  • The service must have clear arrangements in place to provide leadership and a clear line of accountability for responding to complaints.
  • There must also be a complaints manager, who is accessible to the public.

Resolving complaints

The Scottish NHS patient complaints procedure can be summarised as follows:

Local Resolution

Stage 1: early resolution

  • Simple concerns can be addressed within five working days without a formal investigation. However, these should still be logged and reported.

Stage 2: investigation

  • Acknowledgment: complaints should be acknowledged in writing within three working days, or on realisation that early resolution of a simple concern has failed.
  • Investigation: more serious complaints, or simple concerns that were not resolved by early resolution, should be investigated, and responded to within 20 working days.

Independent external review

Patients who are dissatisfied after local resolution and do not wish to take matters further with the provider have the right to complain direct to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).

Recording and reporting

The complaints manager should keep an up-to-date log of all Stage 1 and 2 complaints and how they were responded to. This should be recorded in a separate complaints file, not as part of patients' clinical records.

The regulations require that all NHS services report their complaints activity to their Local Health Board on a quarterly basis.

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 should have formal mechanisms in place to allow complaints to drive learning and improvement.

If there is a serious complaint, or a recurring theme in the subject matter of multiple complaints, then an investigation should be carried out. A report should include:

  • a summary of the subject matter of the complaint(s), excluding confidential information and confined to details of the nature of the complaint(s).
  • 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.

How can we help?

The DDU has extensive experience in assisting members with complaints, and we are happy to advise, assist and support at any stage of the complaints procedure.

For individual advice, call our dento-legal helpline on 0800 374 626 or read our guide on what to do if you've received a complaint.

This page was correct at publication on 01/02/2022. 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.