Do NHS dentists get sued more?


Does being NHS or private affect your fear of complaints and litigation? 

It’s an unfortunate fact that many dentists fear receiving complaints and being sued by patients.  

For many of us this fear has become almost part and parcel of practising dentistry, an unfortunate side effect of delivering healthcare within an increasingly litigious society.  

A 2018 survey by Dental Protection, confirmed this is the sad state of affairs within modern dentistry. The survey found that 98% of dentists felt society was becoming increasingly litigious and 89% feared being sued by their patients. 

Sadly, it seems then that feeling fearful about the threat of complaints, and their potential escalation, is a fairly universal part of being a dentist today.  

Private dentists less fearful of complaints 

However, another survey in 2019 found that whether you work in the NHS or private can affect just how fearful you feel.  

The survey by Practice Plan found that 90% of predominantly NHS dentists are anxious about the risk of complaints compared to 59% of predominantly private dentists. 

It’s such a shame to see that the majority of my fellow dentists in both settings are anxious about this. But there’s clearly a discrepancy between working in the two settings, with far more NHS dentists worried about the risk of complaints compared to private dentists. 

Reasons to fear complaints 

There can be many reasons you’d be fearful of receiving a complaint.  

It’d be wonderful if we could all have 100% completely satisfied patients at all times, but even with the best of intentions, you’re probably not going to please everyone all of the time. 

Most of us don’t like facing conflict either and would simply prefer to avoid dealing with a disgruntled or angry patient if we can. 

But probably the main reason that many of us worry about getting a complaint is the most obvious one: the potential for it to escalate further into a Fitness to Practise investigation or into the legal system.  

Both of which can be a really scary and stressful prospect, even if you know you’ve not done anything wrong – maybe even especially so in those cases. 

Preventing and handling complaints 

While those in private practice are less fearful about complaints, more than half of those in the survey are still anxious about it – so clearly simply leaving the NHS for private practice wouldn’t eliminate that fear, although it may reduce it.  

One of the reasons fewer private dentists may feel anxious is that they generally feel they have more time to spend with patients. 

The more time you have with patients, the more you can communicate with them to make sure they fully understand all the options and treatment plan, and the more able you are to build rapport and create strong relationships.  

And the stronger your relationships are, the less likely your patients are to complain. Even if a complaint does happen, if good communication is a priority in your practice and you have built those robust relationships, the patient making it will be more likely to bring it directly to your door rather than taking it to a third party. 

Communication is absolutely key to preventing complaints from happening. It is also vital to handling a complaint should they happen. Dealing with a complaint locally within the practice so that it doesn’t escalate externally into something more serious is paramount.  

If you’re already spending time with patients, talking to them and listening to them, but something happens and they feel unhappy with the service you’ve provided, the chances are that both you and they will feel more comfortable discussing it and finding a resolution between you.  

Read this blog to find out more about how to improve your conversation skills. 

By Insurance & Indemnity