Dentists: You’ve received a complaint – what happens next?


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Dental patients have the right to complain about poor treatment. For any business that offers a service to members of the public, complaints are a fact of life and there are processes and people to help you – and them – get the problem resolved satisfactorily. 

Do you have a procedure for complaints?

In fact, the efficiency of the complaints’ procedure can sometimes prevent a problem escalating. As consumers ourselves, if we take the trouble to complain and the problem is dealt with promptly and we’re treated with respect, this can improve our long-term relationship with that retailer or supplier, and even be a reason to recommend them. In other words, a patient who complains does not have to be a patient lost.

Any individual unhappy with the care they have received may try to resolve the matter amicably and informally, by talking to you by phone or in person, or by sending an email. If they want to make a formal complaint, practices must have clear protocols which everyone is aware of and that are easy to follow. The process will differ depending on whether the dentist was working privately, or as part of the NHS. Broadly, an NHS patient has the option to go through NHS England if they don’t want to deal with the practice, but private patients will need to speak to the dentist, practice manager or owner. Whatever system it is, they must feel reassured that you are taking it seriously and are willing to help them sort things out.  

When you receive a formal complaint, if both parties agree on what should happen next, solicitors do not need to get involved. You may offer a full or partial refund, for example, which the patient is happy to accept to settle the issue. That’s the straightforward scenario; they may reject your offer if they believe they need remedial work and the proposed refund won’t cover it. Another common obstacle is if a long time has passed since the treatment, or if the treating dentist is no longer at the practice.

It is at this point of dissatisfaction with how a complaint has been handled that things can get tricky. Both NHS and private patients have non-legal routes they can take, such as contacting the ombudsman, Citizen’s Advice, the GDC or the Dental Complaints Service, but more frequently they will then instruct a solicitor. In fact, they may have chosen to do this right away and no wonder, with so many firms who specialise in dental claims offering their services on a no-win, no-fee basis.

A request for medical records, along with brief details about the nature of the claim, may be the first sign you know that someone is pursuing action against you. So, what do you do? To begin with, don’t panic!

Contact your indemnity provider for advice

No confidential information can be shared without consent, so take care with how much gets passed to any third party. It is always advised that, if you are faced with a request to disclose information, you should contact your indemnity provider to seek initial advice as to how to respond, as well as getting to know your case and providing you with the necessary support.

The claims process tends to be lengthy and, as the months pass, it can take a heavy emotional toll on your wellbeing. Even if you are taking the whole thing in your stride, do not underestimate how it could be affecting others in the team. The quality of your legal reputation is also key, and your indemnity policy must cover the costs of having a skilled lawyer who understands dental claims. You want your provider to be positive, professional and practical – a lack of support, and not knowing who to talk to will inhibit your ability to perform and enjoy your work.

Howden is one of the leading insurance and indemnity providers with tailored, contract-backed policies for dental professionals of all specialisms and practices. Cover is competitively priced, with added value in the form of a 24/7 medicolegal and a mental wellbeing helpline, for guidance and advice. Retroactive cover is built into all its policies like a safety net is 10-year run off.

If you have received a complaint or claim, it isn’t the end of the world. Patients have high expectations and treatment is never risk-free. Choose a trusted insurance broker, like Howden, to help ensure that you’re not going through it alone, and you come out the other side with your reputation, finances and emotional wellbeing intact.

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