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Frequently Asked Questions

About the NHS Complaints Regulations...
  • Q
    If I receive a complaint from a patient by email, do NHS regulations allow me to respond by email?
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    01 September 2014

    Paragraph 15 of Local Authority Social Services & NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009 states:

    1. Any communication which is required by these Regulations to be made to a complainant may be sent to the complainant electronically where the complainant

    (a) has consented in writing or electronically; and

    (b) has not withdrawn such consent in writing or electronically

    2. Any requirement in these Regulations for a document to be signed by a person is satisfied, in the case of a document which is sent electronically in accordance with these Regulations, by the individual who is authorised to sign the document typing their name or producing their name using a computer or other electronic means.

    Many patients have access to email, so when the email is acknowledged check with them to see that they are happy to receive further email correspondence about this subject before allowing the nominated complaints handler in the practice to respond to the complaint in any detail. If the patient is amenable for you to proceed in this way, it may expedite matters.

    However, care should be taken to ensure that any correspondence is sent in an appropriate format by the designated complaints handler for the practice. There is sometimes the temptation for a well-meaning instant response to be provided, which it later transpires is incomplete or inappropriate in some way.

    It can also be tempting, in order to strengthen the response, to copy the email to another party such as Dental Protection – but this can sometimes be counter-productive. Appropriate care should be taken in relation to the confidentiality of any response sent by email; some email addresses are more public than others.

    You can read more about the new NHS complaints regulations here [internal to page on Complaints Regulations 2009].

  • Q
    Is it advisable for a dentist to apologise if a patient experiences pain after treatment?
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    01 September 2014

    An apology is not an admission of guilt but is simply an expression of regret; for example, ‘I am sorry you had so much pain after the extraction.’ This does not mean the dentist has done anything wrong but is more an expression of sympathy/empathy and an understanding of the difficulty the patient faced. An apology coupled with an explanation can provide reassurance to a complainant and is often all the patient is looking for.

    It is particularly important where a patient has been avoidably harmed; the lack of an apology in these situations is one of the many reasons why patients take complaints further. 

    Members can explore this further by downloading the risk management module on complaint handling from the library here

  • Q
    If I refund the patient’s fees, am I admitting liability and risking a future claim?
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    01 September 2014

    There is a common misconception that giving a refund to a patient should be avoided because it implies there has been a problem. However, in certain circumstances where the patient is disappointed with the look or the comfort of the final result (e.g. dentures that the patient cannot wear or the degree of whiteness achieved with bleaching), the dentist can give the patient a refund. This can often resolve difficult situations and avoid further hassle.

    Provided the refund is given with a clear indication, preferably in writing, that it is ‘a gesture of goodwill with no admission of liability’, it is unlikely to increase the risk of any further action and does not provide any additional grounds on which the patient might base a claim.

    Members might like to explore this further by downloading the Risk Management Module 9 on complaint handling from the library here

  • Q
    If an NHS patient makes a verbal complaint, can it be resolved informally?
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    01 September 2014

    A complaint that is spoken is just as valid as one in written form and should be treated in the same way unless it fits one of the two exemptions described in paragraph 8 of the Local Authority Social Services & NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009:

    (a) a complaint which is made orally and is resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction not later than the next working day after the day on which the complaint was made

    (b) a complaint which has previously been investigated

    This can have the effect of speeding up and simplifying the complaints procedure, particularly if a practice has a nominated complaints manager who is known to the patients and who is easily available and accessible to them.

    Very often, taking the time to sit down and listen to a patient goes a long way to resolving their concerns. For this to be successful, the complaints procedure should be well publicised, the team has to be fully aware of the procedures, and the complaints manager should be available during normal surgery hours.