BACKGROUND: A receptionist sits at the front desk of a dental surgery reading a magazine in the last five minutes of an hour-long lunch break, during which time the surgery is closed. A few patients have turned up early and wait outside the locked entrance. One of the patients – Ms A – starts to rap persistently on the glass door. The receptionist goes to the door and unlocks it and Ms A pushes angrily passed her into the surgery.
She demands to know why the surgery is locked when she has an appointment at 2. The practice manager hears shouting and comes out of her office and asks what is the difficulty. Ms A complains that she came on time for her appointment only to find the door locked and what kind of customer service is that? The PM asks her to calm down and explains that the lunchtime closing is practice policy.
Ms A shouts loudly that she “will not calm down” and thrusts two fingers in the PM’s face as she rants about the “rude ****ing staff”. The PM backs away and tells her that the practice does not tolerate such aggressive behaviour and that she will be reporting the incident to the dentist.
Ms A shouts: “Please do!”
Later before treating Ms A the dentist explains that the office is locked over the lunch period for reasons of staff security. The patient says she was not happy having to “wait outside in the cold”. The dentist replies that this is no excuse for her aggressive behaviour.
Later at a practice meeting the dentist learns the receptionist had been left frightened and in tears by Ms A’s behaviour. It is decided by the practice to write to Ms A informing her that she is no longer welcome at the surgery. A few days later Ms A replies by letter objecting to the practice’s “overreaction” to the incident and further complaining about the inconvenience of the lunchtime closing. The PM contacts MDDUS for advice.
OUTCOME/ANALYSIS: An MDDUS dental adviser discusses the issue with the PM and agrees that it is entirely unacceptable for practice staff to be subjected to verbal and physical threats by a patient – and that removal from the practice list is a reasonable response. The practice is advised to send a second letter informing Ms A that her complaint will be discussed at the next practice meeting but that the removal from the list still stands.
The letter also advises Ms A that if she further objects to the decision she is free to take up the matter with the Ombudsman. Contact details are provided.
- Adopt a zero-tolerance policy to physical and/or verbal aggression against practice staff.
- Immediate removal from the practice list is justified if a patient has been violent and/or verbally abusive.
- Ensure practice opening times are prominently displayed to avoid such complaints.