Communication key to preventing complaints from escalating


For immediate release: Friday, 8 April 2016

Dental practitioners in Scotland are reminded of the importance of good communication in effective complaints handling.

Not only is it required by the GDC and a contractual obligation for NHS dentists, but dental defence organisation MDDUS is reminding practitioners that their compliance with good complaints management procedures may also be scrutinised by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).

“The Ombudsman is the final stage of assessing NHS dental complaints that have not been successfully resolved at local level,” says MDDUS dental adviser Doug Hamilton. “As part of the Ombudsman’s investigation, there will be an assessment of how the practitioner has handled the patient’s complaint from the outset, and this can be a complex and time-consuming process.

“In our experience, most complaints can be resolved by communicating effectively with the patient, listening to and addressing their concerns. Many patients simply want an explanation or an apology, if appropriate, as well as reassurance that steps have been taken to minimise the chances of any errors happening again.

“However, there are times when a complaint cannot be resolved locally and the patient may turn to the Ombudsman to investigate. The Ombudsman can request all relevant records and other supporting documents.”

The Ombudsman will also ask practitioners to provide evidence that they have complied with complaints handling obligations, including those set out in the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Scottish Government’s ‘Can I Help You’ guidance.

“All dental practices should have a comprehensive policy in place for handling complaints that patients should be made aware of,” says Hamilton. “The SPSO will expect practitioners to inform patients from the outset of the NHS complaints procedure so that they understand the stages involved and the timescales.

“Until now, there has been a three-day window (from the date of receipt) during which informal resolution, usually by means of verbal negotiations, could be explored. There are plans to extend this by a further two days which will allow more time for a solution to be reached.

“Patients should also be given contact details of the Ombudsman and Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS) when the initial complaint is made. Practices should have a named individual who is responsible for handling patient complaints. However, everyone in the practice should be properly trained.

“Finally, dentists are reminded that all complaints are recorded, even those resolved at an early stage and complaints records should be kept separate from health records.”

The GDC’s Standards for the Dental Team states: “If the patient is not satisfied despite your best efforts to resolve their complaint, you should tell them about other avenues that are open to them, such as the relevant Ombudsman for health services complaints or the Dental Complaints Service for complaints about private dental treatment.”


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK.

For further information on MDDUS go to



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