Dental mythbuster 34: Complaints management

Page last updated: 2 October 2023
Organisations we regulate

We look at Regulation 16: Receiving and acting on complaints when assessing complaints.

We will seek assurance that:

  • People understand how to make a complaint about a service. They are also encouraged and feel confident to do so.
  • The complaints process is easy to use. People are given help and support when needed.
  • The complaints process involves all parties named or involved in the complaint. There is an opportunity to be involved in the response.
  • The provider uses accessible information, or support, if they need to raise concerns.
  • Complaints are effectively handled, including:
    • ensuring openness and transparency
    • confidentiality
    • regular updates for the complainant
    • a timely response and explanation of the outcome
    • a formal record.
  • Systems and processes protect people from discrimination, harassment or disadvantage.
  • Complaints are logged and monitored to assess trends and shared with the wider team. They are used to learn and drive continuous improvement. Trends can help highlight where changes or improvements may be needed.

Responding to complaints

The General Dental Council (GDC) have set out six core principles of complaint handling.

The principles set out a very clear picture of what patients can expect when providing feedback or making a complaint.

One of the GDC standards states that dentists should have a clear and effective complaints procedure. NHS dental practices must follow the Local Authority Social Services and National Health Service Complaints (England) Regulations (2009). This sets out expectations for NHS providers in how to manage complaints.

If a patient, or a person acting on their behalf, does not want to directly complain to an NHS provider, they can complain to NHS England.

Patients can either complain to the provider or the commissioner of that service. They’re unable to complain to both. Make sure this is not misrepresented in local policy and practice information leaflets. The commissioner cannot investigate if the provider has already responded.

According to the Local Authority Social Services and National Health Service Complaints (England) Regulations (2009) complaints should be handled in two stages:

  • Stage 1: local resolution by the provider or commissioner. Most complaints resolve quickly and efficiently this way.
  • Stage 2: if a complainant is still dissatisfied after stage 1, they can complain to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). NHS dentists and other NHS oral health, who are being complained about, can also take the case to the PHSO. For example, if they’re not satisfied with a response given on their behalf by a commissioning body.

Independent/private dentists are unable to use the PHSO. There is no legal obligation to have an appeals process. However, it’s good practice to offer an independent process for addressing complaints. For example, the Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service (ISCAS) can be used.

The Regulating Dental Services Program Board has published a joint statement on dental complaints.


The GDC expects you to respond to complaints within the time limits set out in your complaint’s procedure. In certain circumstances, these timescales can be extended.

The Complaint Regulations do not provide a timescale to respond. A suitable timescale should be agreed with the complainant during the acknowledgement process. If the complainant gets no response within 6 months of their complaint being received, they can go straight to the PHSO.

The Local Authority Social Services and NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009 state:

  • complaints can be verbal or in writing
  • practices must make sure complainants receive a timely and appropriate response. This is usually 3 working days to acknowledge receipt of the complaint.

Complaint management at a dental practice

Practices must have a well-publicised complaints process. It should set out:

  • arrangements for the handling and consideration of complaints
  • clear responsibility for complaints arrangements. This is to avoid delays in complaint management.

Acknowledging complaints

It’s important for providers to acknowledge complaints. Providers should give assurance that the complainant will be treated with respect and courtesy. They will not be compromised because of the complaint.

Complaint files and investigations aren’t routinely stored as part of clinical records. This is to avoid future prejudice. It may also be necessary due to clinician confidentiality.

Complaint reporting

Dental practices must provide us with a summary of complaints when requested.

Further Information