NHS complaints procedure: the ombudsman

Complaints can be escalated to the ombudsman if a local resolution is unsuccessful.

  • The NHS complaints procedure applies to all NHS health providers in the UK including dental practices.
  • There is a two-stage complaints process; local resolution and the relevant ombudsman for each UK country.

The ombudsman in each part of the UK provides details of the principles of good complaints handling. Please see links below to each UK ombudsman website.

When will the ombudsman investigate?

  • Complainants who are not satisfied with the initial response to their complaint at local resolution can refer it for investigation by the relevant ombudsman.
  • Grievances about the administration of the complaints procedure itself can also be considered.

Timeframes

The timeframe for a complaint being referred to the ombudsman varies between the four UK countries - again, see links below.

Investigating the complaint

  • The ombudsman has discretion as to whether to investigate a complaint and considers each case on its merits.
  • Where the complaint is accepted, the ombudsman's office will begin an investigation and inform those involved.
  • The ombudsman has access to all the paperwork generated by local resolution and can order the disclosure of documents and the attendance of witnesses, if necessary.
  • The ombudsman's office may also obtain independent professional advice and may be assisted by specialist assessors for anything involving clinical judgement.

A confidential draft is prepared for the dental professional to check for accuracy. Depending on where you work, a draft report may also be issued to the complainant to comment on.

  • The final report is sent to all interested parties and is published in anonymised form on the ombudsman's website.

Recommendations

  • If the ombudsman's office finds the dental professional to be at fault, it may recommend changes to their work, or that the dental professional apologises. Depending on where you work, the ombudsman may recommend offering the patient financial redress.
  • Although compliance with recommendations cannot be enforced, in practice, dental professionals usually adopt recommendations.

Helpful links

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

Public Services Ombudsman Wales

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman

This page was correct at publication on 19/04/2022. 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.