A free independent service will allow dental patients to resolve complaints about their treatment.
The Dental Complaints Resolution Service is being set up by the Irish Dental Association to allow relatively minor complaints against dentists to be handled in a quick, efficient, and cost-free manner through mediation.
Previously complaints could only be submitted to the profession’s regulatory body, the Dental Council, which is primarily concerned with handling complaints regarding professional misconduct or an individual dentist’s fitness to practise.
The new service will be mediated by Michael Kilcoyne, who is chairman of the National Consumers’ Association, a county councillor in Co Mayo, and a former member of the Dental Council.
He said patients previously had no option but to either go to the Dental Council or the courts to process a complaint.
He said the service was intended to deal with most complaints about dental care and treatment including problems regarding treatment standards, diagnosis, communications, professional etiquette, and fees.
He said he would have no hesitation in referring the most serious cases to the Dental Council.
The service will not cover allegations of criminal activity or treatment by dentists who are covered by third-party schemes such as the medical card, PRSI or insurance-based schemes.
Mr Kilcoyne said it was impossible to estimate how many complaints the new service was likely to receive.
The dental association said it received about 300 complaints and queries from patients each year, even though it does not have any formal role in dealing with complaints against its members.
If agreement between a patient and a dentist cannot be reached, Mr Kilcoyne said the complainant would be given the option between the issue being examined by a complaints panel or getting a second clinical opinion.
Any recommendations made by Mr Kilcoyne or a complaints panel would be non-binding on a dentist.
Dental association president Dr Conor McAlister said a similar scheme in Britain resolved two thirds of all complaints within a week.
It is expected that most complaints submitted to the Irish scheme will be dealt with through correspondence and phone conversations.
Dr McAlister said dentists would also welcome the feedback from the process. He claimed the initiative was part of the association’s policy to enhance public confidence in the profession and followed on from the code of practice introduced by the Dental Council last June making it mandatory for all dentists to display pricing for standard treatments in their surgeries.
There are about 2,600 dentists registered in the Republic, of which 1,500 are members of the association. Non-members can agree to participate in the new disputes resolution scheme.
* More information on the new service can be found at www.dentalcomplaints.ie
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