The majority of complaints logged by the Dental Complaints Service (DCS) are resolved within three working days, according to the service’s first annual report.
The service, which helps resolve complaints about private dental care, logged more than 1,500 complaints in its first year of operation. It was set up and funded by the General Dental Council, but operates independently of the UK dental regulator.
‘Speed is crucial,’ said DCS chairman Derek Prentice. ‘All the evidence shows that the longer a complaint takes to resolve, the less likely it is to be resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties involved who tend to become more and more entrenched.’
More than half of the 1,559 complaints logged and closed by the Service in its first year were resolved over the phone, often by urging the patient and dental professional to talk.
One in six callers contacted the Service at the suggestion of a dental professional. The South East, London and the South West yielded most complaints per head of population; Scotland, the North East and Northern Ireland yielded the least.
‘These patients would otherwise have been left with few other options,’ added Mr Prentice. ‘In addition to speed of response and action, we’ve built the service with an emphasis on being fair and impartial in all we do, and take pride in the transparency of our process. ‘
The success of the Service is also due to the very positive response it has received from dental professionals, who have praised it for its even-handedness. Many dental professionals have called it for advice generally, and some about apparently intractable complaints.
More than 5,000 enquiries were made to the Service using its local rate complaints hotline (08456 120540) over the year. Half were about NHS dental services. These were redirected to the appropriate NHS contact.
Of the 1,500-plus complainants, over three-quarters were initially referred back to their dental practice’s own complaints procedures. Of those, fewer than one in five returned to the Dental Complaints Service with their complaint unresolved.
If a practice cannot resolve the complaint, then the Dental Complaints Service’s advisers offer to help to sort it out informally with the patient and their dental professional. In 16 cases, complaints were referred further, to meetings facilitated by a panel of trained volunteers, the last step in the service’s attempts to resolve a complaint. Five of the 16 panels concluded that there was no complaint to answer.
Across the UK, most complaints have been about dentists, with a few about other dental professionals. Most complaints concerned solely private treatment, but a few were about mixed NHS/private treatment. Treatment issues included fillings, crowns and dentures, and service issues have included pain, cost and rudeness.
To contact the Dental Complaints Service, call 08456 120540 (local rate) or visit http://www.dentalcomplaints.org.uk.