Poor communication is at heart of many dental complaints, finds ombudsman

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is today urging dentists to be clearer with patients about charging to help avoid confusion about costs.

Over the past two years it identified 27 cases where confusion about dental charging was an issue.

The Ombudsman Service reviewed all dental cases concluded over the last two years following a study published by Which?.

Which’s study found that a number of dentists are failing to spell out the treatment patients need, to provide details on NHS and private options or to explain the costs of treatment to patients.

The Ombudsman’s findings showed that:

  • the current system is confusing for both patients and dentists and can sometimes mean patients are overcharged.
  • some patients do not know whether or not they are entitled to exemption from charges and fail to realise that it is their responsibility to complete the form correctly.
  • sometimes dentists fail to share treatment plans with their patients, despite an obligation to do so.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

We know from our casework that the current dental charging system is confusing for both patients and dentists.

'Dentists must clearly discuss treatment options and associated costs with patients and we hope they will take on board the learning in this review. 

'Clear, effective communication will help prevent many of the complaints we see about dental charging and will allow patients to make informed decisions.'

One of the cases reviewed involved a woman who had four teeth extracted from the front of her mouth by her dentist and a temporary denture fitted. She was told at a subsequent appointment that her gums would shrink and that she would need to pay for a replacement denture after that happened.

She complained that she was being asked to pay twice for a single course of treatment but the Ombudsman Service concluded that according to the rules these were two courses of treatment.

In another case a complainant was referred to his local hospital to have all his teeth extracted. When he returned to the dental practice to be fitted with new dentures he and dental practice staff disagreed about whether this should be considered a new course of treatment.

The Ombudsman Service concluded that the extraction, the appointment where this was discussed and the denture fitting should all have been charged as one single course of treatment and asked the dental practice to apologise and make a payment for its failure to apply the NHS dental charge correctly. 

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigates complaints from individuals about UK government departments, and other public organisations, and the NHS in England. It carries out adjudications independently, without taking sides, providing a final chance for people’s complaints to be looked at.

Notes to editors

  1. The PHSO review looked at concluded cases between September 2012 to September 2014.
  2. In that time it received 36,839 enquiries about the NHS, with 2,368 of these about dentists. It investigated 189 cases about dentists during this same time period.
  3. You can read our report here (create link on new website).

Contact: Jeremy Dunning

Phone: 03000614220