- The first notification of a claim may take different forms, but is usually by way of a letter from the patient or a solicitor, with a request for a copy of the patient's dental records.
- Act quickly and contact the DDU for advice.
Stay calm but act quickly
A claim for clinical negligence often comes without warning, and can be an unpleasant shock. Solicitors' letters may be written in a forceful and occasionally threatening style; the claim will be based largely on what the patient has told them and may not seem fair, accurate or reasonable to you.
If you receive a notification of a claim:
- Don't reply to the letter directly; contact the DDU on 0800 374 626. It is our role to act on your behalf throughout the claim process. Our advisory team is available 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday, and advice is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for dento-legal emergencies or urgent queries.
- Act quickly; strict timetables are set in law. Tell us immediately, so that we have plenty of time to prepare your defence.
Don't take the tone or contents of the letter personally. Remember that, even with the stress and upset you may feel because of one unhappy patient, many of your patients value your help and expertise and are thankful for the treatment you provide.
How will the DDU help?
- We will tell you how to put together the essential paperwork and documents to send to us.
- We will then usually write to the patient – known as the claimant – or their solicitors, informing that we have received their notification and confirming that we will be looking after you.
- We will inform you of any key developments. This may include advising you that we believe there is no reasonable chance of the claim proceeding or that it has become time-barred.
- We will continue to liaise with you throughout the claim and discuss with you all decisions that may affect your professional position, including any decision regarding a proposed settlement.
- You can call us at any time to check on the progress of your claim, or ask us to contact you regularly, even if we have nothing to report.
Your factual account
- We will ask you for a full, typed factual account of the events in question, with reference to your clinical notes. You should also include details of any witnesses who can support your account or provide further evidence.
- If it's been a while since the incident happened and it's difficult to remember everything that happened, you should comment on your clinical management based on what you would usually do, and from looking at your notes that you made at the time of the alleged incident.
- One of our dento-legal advisers and/or any expert we instruct on your behalf will look at your point of view with the patient's clinical records, and use it as the starting point for your defence if the case proceeds to court.
What documentation will you need to provide?
We will need to see all the papers and records you have that relate to the claim. Don't withhold anything, and don't make any changes to the documents – no matter how brief, scruffy, abbreviated or hurriedly written they are.
If you feel that you need to give us more information, or you want to make a correction, you will need to give this to us in a separate note. We will scan the records you send to us and return them to you once the case is closed.
You will need to provide the following:
- A signed letter/note from you, asking for assistance, and giving your consent for us to act on your behalf.
- The original solicitors' letter or request for compensation or court documents and/or standard form of request for disclosure of records, together with a note of the date on which you received it.
- Your consent for us to show the records to the patient or the patient's representative as and when we need to and a statement confirming that you have sent all the records you have.
- A full clinical report, in date order, of your own advice, care and treatment, together with the full name(s) and contact details of any other dental professional(s) or persons involved in the treatment.
- Your detailed comments on the allegations.
- Your preferred contact details for all future communications.
We will need all the records you have in your control relating to the patient, which may include:
- The patient's clinical notes (including a print-out of all computer-held records), preferably the originals. These should be sent by special or recorded delivery.
- A typed record of the relevant entries in the clinical notes. It should be clear on the record who exactly is responsible for each entry, for example by the initials of the staff involved.
- A clear copy of any relevant entries in the appointment diary or message book.
- Any radiographs, clinical photographs, study models or other laboratory work/records.
- Any communications with other healthcare professionals, such as referral letters or consultant's/specialist's reports.
Send the original documents, together with the original envelope and packaging, to us as soon as possible.
To protect confidentiality, we disguise the names of any other patients involved, for example those in an appointment diary. Please let us know the identity of anyone else named in the records so we can make sure there are no breaches of confidentiality.
This guidance was correct at publication 12/07/2018. 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.