Resolving Complaints and Risk Management with the DDU

Sterling Dental College launched it's new events season and to kick off we had Diana Read, Dental Liaison Manager from the DDU speaking about risk management and how to resolve complaints. Here is a summary of her talk. 

Patient who complain are looking for one or more of the following:
  • An apology
  • An explanation as to what went wrong
  • Compensation or free remedial treatment
  • Assurance that the practice will change things 

But what are the most common causes of complaints?

  • The attitude and manner of dental professionals or the wider team
  • The availability of NHS treatment
  • The cost of treatment
  • Failure to diagnose and treat disease or other problems
  • Pain suffered by the patient
  • Poor aesthetics after treatment
  • Failed restorations or endodontics

How can I reduce the risk of a complaint?

1.  Communication

Communicating effectively is key! This includes fully explaining diagnoses, proposed treatment and any relevant risks to the patients in the way they understand. Written information is useful when appropriate e.g. post-operative instructions, treatment information etc. 

2. Staff Training

It's important for everyone in the team, not just the dental professionals, to be familiar with the practice complaints procedure and know how to respond in an appropriate manner when there is a complaint

3. Review Systems

Every practice should have clear arrangements in place to provide leadership and a clear line of accountability for responding to complaint. There should be a complaints manager who is accessible to the public. The complaints procedure needs to be demonstrated to the primary care organisation if the practice holds an NHS contract. 

4. Learn from your Mistakes

Mistakes happen occasionally but it's important to admit them straightaway and learn from them. If things don't go to plan, it's useful to have a practice adverse incident reporting system in place to allow for all the team to learn from others mistakes. If something does go wrong, make sure you explain it to the patient straight away, be ready to apologise if appropriate.

5. Keep Clear Contemporaneous Notes

These are vital for good patient care and can help in the event of complaint or claim. Ideally, notes should be made at the time of consultation or treatment. 

What happens if a patient complains?


  • Deal with the complaint promptly
  • Be accessible
  • Be professional and fair at all times
  • Listen
  • Explain what happened
  • Admit errors and complications
  • Express sympathy and empathy
  • Be prepared to make changes to your practice
  • Make offers of restitution


  • Hide
  • Procrastinate
  • Argue
  • Lose your temper
  • Issue threats
  • Withhold facts
  • Be 'economical with the truth'
  • Lie
  • Alter records
  • Refuse to compromise

And remember, your defence society is always on the end of the phone! Let them help you manage the complaint and hopefully resolve the situation!

Thanks to Diana and Sterling College for the event! There are lots more free CPD events coming up - see the Sterling College Facebook page for more information.

Please leave your thoughts and comments in the section below

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