ONE IN FOUR DENTAL PATIENTS EXPERIENCING PROBLEMS WITH TREATMENT
A new survey into consumer attitudes to UK dental professionals has found that 25% of dental patients have experienced issues with a procedure or been unhappy with treatment.
The finding from the poll conducted by the Dental Law Partnership (DLP) among 2000 adults registered with a dentist, comes at a time of increased complaints about dental care in the UK, up by 110% since 2010*.
When asked what action they would take if they felt treatment was incorrect over half those surveyed said they would discuss it with the dentist direct, while 40% said they would complain to the surgery manager.
Only one in four would think to complain to the General Dental Council (GDC). This is in line with GDC guidance on complaints which encourages dentists and patients to deal with issues locally first and only use them as a last resort.
Director at DLP, and qualified dentist, Chris Dean, commented: “More patients than we expected are having a less than satisfying experience at some stage. That is bad news when you are trying to reverse a growing complaint trend.
“We also know that more and more people are not getting resolution at local level and are having to take their complaint higher or instruct firms like us.”
DLP has seen a 52% increase in new claims in the last five years.
Just over one in three said they would change dentist or leave the practice altogether if they were unhappy with treatment.
Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said it was worrying that continuing reports found poor levels of dental care for many patients and problems with them being able to complain.
“Unfortunately we receive far too many of these types of complaints to our Helpline about poor dental care and then difficulties in trying to get this put right. Many former NHS patients have reluctantly become private patients, but even this doesn’t seem to guarantee improved care. Those patients who have an NHS dentist are usually terrified to complain in case they get struck off.
She added: “We know the vast majority of dentists run a good service and try to do their best for patients, but when things do go wrong there should be a simple and clear pathway to ensuring complaints can be heard and acted upon.”
Other findings from the poll said that 35% of patients choose their dentist based on a long-standing relationship with other family members, while 25% based their decision on who had a surgery closest to home. One in five said they would just go for whoever was taking patients on at the time. Only one in six would base it on a recommendation.
Chris Dean again: “Patients are putting traditional family ties, locality and convenience before consideration of one dentist’s skills over another.”
Fifteen per cent of people had been with their dentist for over 20 years, although the average length of stay was just under nine years. Chris again: “Patients are telling us that they tend to stick to a particular dentist once they have registered with someone. That makes it all the more important that they can get resolution when things go wrong.”
Seventy four per cent of respondents rated their dental treatment either good or very good. Chris Dean again: “The majority of dental professionals in this country operate to a good standard and there are no issues. But according to our survey there is much more negative experience around than we anticipated.
“And while the GDC advocates local resolution, increases in complaints nationally and our own rise in claims suggests that this approach is not working.”
“The GDC needs to open up better dialogue with dental patients so that they can get to the bottom of what is driving up levels of discontent and then tackle it with the profession.”
*General Dental Council Annual Report & Accounts 2013 p8