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Restricted access prompts patient complaint

20 November 2020

The efforts made by a dental team committed to taking precautions to protect patients and deliver care safely during a global pandemic should not be the most obvious target for a patient complaint. Dental Protection has, however, helped a good number of members to deal with situations that have illustrated how little some things change, even when the rest of the world has.

Case study

During the period of lockdown restrictions, Dr A was operating a limited emergency service for her patients, which involved telephone triage, providing advice and prescribing analgesia and antimicrobials as appropriate. For patients with acute emergencies requiring face-to-face treatment, Dr A had arrangements in place with some members of the practice team to enable patients to be seen at the surgery.

The range of treatment options possible was restricted and no AGPs could be carried out, but Dr A would do her best to address acute problems whenever it was possible.

Mr X contacted the practice as an emergency late in the afternoon, reporting that he was in unbearable pain from a back tooth. He was offered the next available emergency slot for the following day. Mr X reported that the time of this was not suitable and asked instead if he could just come first thing in the morning and would be happy to wait to be seen in between other patients.

It was explained to Mr X that the surgery had strict social distancing measures in place and was only allowing one patient at a time into the premises to limit contact. To achieve this, appointment times had to be spaced out more. Mr X said he thought it was ridiculous if Dr A could not find five minutes to fit him in. Dr A then agreed to open up the surgery half an hour early in order to be able to see the patient first thing as requested, so she made arrangements with the staff to open up the practice earlier than usual the next day.

Despite this, the patient did not attend as arranged. Instead he turned up an hour late expecting to be “squeezed in”. The receptionist was polite but very firm about not admitting him at that time as there was another patient due. Mr X became very angry, demanding to be seen by Dr A, and when it was explained that it was not possible at that time he eventually left saying how let down he had been, and that he would go to a real dentist. A colourful email was received later that day threatening legal action against both Dr A and the receptionist. The email also threatened going to the local papers about “unfair discrimination”.

Dental Protection assisted Dr A in preparing a measured response, which included references to the various procedures and precautions put in place by the practice to ensure patient safety and a reminder of the reasons for these. Mr X was also reminded of the special arrangements that had been made to accommodate him. Mr X did not get back in touch.

Learning points

  • Do not assume patients will understand the reason they cannot have what they want.
  • Doing the right thing does not always make you popular.
  • Having clear procedures helps to demonstrate fair treatment.
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These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits Dental Protection members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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