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Principle One

Put patient's interests first


Principle Two

Communicate effectively with patients


Principle Three

Obtain valid consent


Principle Four

Maintain and protect patients' information


Principle Five

Have a clear and effective complaints procedure


Principle Six

Work with colleagues in a way that is in patients' best interests


Principle Seven

Maintain, develop and work within your professional knowledge and skills


Principle Eight

Raise concerns if patients are at risk


Principle Nine

Make sure your personal behaviour maintains patients' confidence in you and the dental profession


Principle Five

Have a clear and effective complaints procedure


Learning Material Case Study

Effective complaints handling Effective complaints handling

​Mr Taylor is a dentist. Two of his patients paid into a monthly dental payment scheme which entitled them to a specific number of check-ups every year.

On a number of occasions, these regular appointments were cancelled by Mr Taylor. The patients both wrote letters of complaint to Mr Taylor and asked for a refund of their monthly payments but their letters were ignored.

The patients then contacted the company which ran the dental payment scheme and asked for assistance in resolving their complaints. The representative from the payment scheme sent four letters to Mr Taylor, all of which were ignored and also left a number of voicemail messages for him, but the telephone calls were not returned. When the company reported this to the patients, they decided to complain to the GDC.

The fitness to practise caseworker considered Mr Taylor may have breached a number of the standards and guidance in Standards for the Dental Team including (but not limited to):

  • 5.1 You must make sure there is an effective complaints procedure readily available for patients to use, and follow that procedure at all times
  • 5.1.1 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; and
    • provide a constructive response to the complaint.
  • 5.3 You must give patients who complain a prompt and constructive response
  • 5.3.3 You should aim to resolve complaints as efficiently, effectively and politely as possible.
  • 5.3.4 You must respond to complaints within the time limits set out in your complaints procedure.

The case was referred to the Investigating Committee. The Investigating Committee was concerned by Mr Taylor’s attitude towards his patients and his repeated failure to engage with appropriate agencies in the interests of patients and decided to refer him to the Professional Conduct Committee.

The Professional Conduct Committee considered the case and thought that Mr Taylor’s behaviour was a clear breach of a fundamental standard expected of a dental professional. It thought his conduct fell far below what was expected of a registrant and had the potential to bring the profession into disrepute.

The committee felt that Mr Taylor’s behaviour could be remediated, but was concerned that he had shown no insight into his failings or taken any steps to address them. The committee was also concerned by Mr Taylor’s poor attitude, his failure to engage with the patients and payment scheme provider and also his failure to engage with his regulatory body. The committee decided to issue Mr Taylor with a reprimand.

Most complaints can be easily dealt with at a practice level as long as you don’t ignore them. Ignoring a complaint will only make the patient more angry and may result in them raising their complaint with us. Often a simple apology or an offer to put things right is all that patients want and the sooner you put the things right, the better. If you receive a complaint from a patient you should acknowledge it and provide the patient with a response within the time limits set out in your complaints handling procedure.

It is your responsibility to deal with complaints properly and professionally. Check that there is a complaints procedure in place where you work and make sure that it’s clearly displayed in a place where patients can see it. You should not act defensively if someone complains – try to see complaints as an opportunity to improve your practice. If despite your best efforts to resolve the complaint the patient remains dissatisfied, tell them about other avenues that are open to them such as the Dental Complaints Service or the local NHS (or equivalent health service) complaints procedures.