Managing staff departures

Rupert Hoppenbrouwers advises on how to ensure staff departures are as stress-free as possible.

Many would agree that it is important to have professional and cordial relationships with work colleagues – after all, we all spend a considerable amount of time at work! However, when a co-worker indicates their intention to leave a practice, it can sometimes lead to awkwardness, tension, or conflict situations, which can be upsetting and potentially damaging to a practice and to individuals, including patients.

So what steps can you take to ensure a notice period goes smoothly? The DDU recommends undertaking the following.

Draw up a written agreement or contract

It is a good idea to draw up a comprehensive written agreement or contract between practice owners and self-employed clinicians. By clearly setting out the expectations and obligations of both parties, a written agreement can reduce disputes and ensure they are easier to resolve, if they do occur.

Ensure that any written document contains appropriate clauses referring explicitly to the departure of a colleague. Consequently, when a colleague announces their plan to leave, it is imperative that both parties review the agreement and adhere to any binding out clause, which restricts the departing staff member’s ability to practice nearby and/or canvass patients treated at the practice. Both parties should do all they can to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the agreement.

Communication with patients

It is important for both the departing staff member and the practice owner to be open and honest with patients, and to act in their best interests. Ideally, the practice owner and the leaving individual should discuss the arrangements surrounding the departure, and try to agree a mutually acceptable approach to letting patients know.

The DDU recommends the practice owner writes to all patients who are treated by, or are booked in with, the relevant clinician, to inform them of the colleague’s departure and to introduce their replacement or explain the alternative arrangements for their ongoing care.

Any letter needs to be factually correct and not mislead or misinform patients, but there is no need to give any information about the departing clinician’s new practising arrangements. If no written agreement exists, then the outgoing member of staff is free to tell patients where they are going.

Ensuring data is protected

Usually, the departing staff member will not be entitled to use practice records or any internal databases to contact patients directly or, to take the patients’ contact details/records with them when they leave.

Typically, records and internal databases belong to the practice owner as the ICO registered data controller and owner of the system. The outgoing clinician would be breaching the Data Protection Act and the GDPR, if they were to take, hold and use data for their own purposes.   

To conclude

When an individual announces they are to leave a practice, it is best for all involved if both parties agree on how communications with patients should be managed, as they should not be misled in any way.

Consequently, the clinician will need to tell patients of their departure, when advising them about their ongoing care and arranging follow-up appointments. It would be misleading for patients to be led to believe that they will be returning to see the outgoing clinician, or that the clinician will be able to complete the patient’s current course of treatment when that is not the case.

Finally, remember to contact your dental defence organisation if you have any questions or concerns.

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