Spring clean your dental complaints procedure

dental complaintsA new year is a great time for a spring clean. Here Lesley Taylor explains why now is the ideal time to review your complaints procedure and check it’s up to date.

At the DDU, we regularly find that many complaints can be handled effectively in practice if the proper procedures are in place. Consequently, having a clear, concise, effective, published and easily accessible procedure is vitally important. It ensures that everybody knows what should happen if a complaint arises. This benefits not only patients but also staff, relatives and carers. 

The GDC’s position 

The GDC requires that all practices have a complaints procedure in place. In principle five of its Standards for the Dental Team, the GDC states that dental practices must ‘have a clear and effective complaints procedure’. Additionally, paragraph 5.1.1 explains that: 

‘It is part of your responsibility as a dental professional to deal with complaints properly and professionally.

You must:

  • Ensure that there is an effective written complaints procedure where you work
  • Follow the complaints procedure at all times
  • Respond to complaints within the time limits set out in the procedure
  • Provide a constructive response to the complaint.’

This means that the management and handling of complaints is the responsibility of every registered dental professional in the practice. Not just the practice owner or manager.

Also, the GDC’s guidance requires private practitioners to adopt similar standards and time limits to those who work for the NHS, so one procedure should suffice for practices which have both NHS and private patients. 

What should be included in a practice’s complaints procedure? 

The following points are worth considering when formulating the practice’s complaints procedure as they are in line with both GDC and NHS requirements. However, as the NHS requirements vary slightly between the four nations it is worth checking the specific guidance relevant to you if undertaking NHS work. 

Firstly, the procedure should contain information regarding who can make a complaint; the patient, somebody authorised by the patient or an individual with parental responsibility, and submitted within the allotted time frame. The time limit for registering a complaint is generally a maximum of 12 months. However, this does differ between the nations. Later complaints should be accepted if the complainant has good reason for the delay. It is still possible to investigate the complaint effectively. 

Next, details of all complaints must be recorded in writing. This means that a written record of verbal complaints needs to be made by the person receiving them. The complaint record should be kept separate from the clinical records. Remember not to put barriers in the way of patients by insisting they make a written complaint.

All complaints should be acknowledged on receipt, and a full response sent following a thorough investigation. Again, the time constraints for both the acknowledgement and the response vary between the nations. However, if a delay is unavoidable, the complainant should be informed and advised when they can expect to receive a response. If there are delays, principle 5.3.6 of Standards for the Dental Team requires that updates be provided at least every 10 days.

Accessing records

It is also important to explain to patients the need to access their confidential clinical records to investigate and respond to their concerns. There should also be a complaints manager who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the procedure. There should also be a responsible officer, who is a partner or other senior person, to oversee it. They can be the same person.

Finally, the procedure should be made known to patients. This includes alternatives to the practice procedure. Also, ‘other avenues that are open to them, such as the relevant Ombudsman for health service complaints or the Dental Complaints Service for complaints about private dental treatment’ as outlined in principle 5.3.11. 

What should not be included in a practice’s complaints procedure?

Despite the requirement to tell complainants how they can escalate their complaint, the complaints procedure does not need to mention the GDC. By not mentioning the GDC, you may prevent a complaint unnecessarily escalating. It being resolved in an easier and more timely manner. This enables you to spend more time on treating patients.  

Publishing the practice’s complaints procedure

It is a GDC requirement for details of the complaints procedure to appear on the practice website, along with details of who patients can contact if they are not satisfied with the response.

It should also appear in the practice information leaflet, and a notice should be displayed prominently in the reception area. Printed copies of the procedure should also be available from reception. Patients should receive a copy of the procedure with the written acknowledgement of their complaint.

Finally, it is important to remember that if a patient is dissatisfied, you should make it as straightforward as possible for them to complain at practice level.

Although this may seem counterintuitive, it is in your interests to have the opportunity to resolve the complaint at a local level. The practice setting is preferred to the patient taking their complaint elsewhere and having a third party involved.

Therefore, it is essential that all members of staff are familiar with the practice procedure. They should know exactly what to do when a patient expresses any dissatisfaction.   

For more information on the DDU visit www.theddu.com.

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