The survey, carried out between March and May 2017, showed that patient satisfaction with UK dental care remains very high with 97% of patients who have visited their dentist in the last year. Perhaps even more encouragingly, the number who say they are ‘very satisfied’ has increased by 6% over the last five years to 67%.
However, young people (aged between 25-34) and over 65s are more likely as the average to be dissatisfied and patients from an ethnic minority (53% are significantly less likely to be very satisfied with their dental care than those who are white (69%).
The survey found that on average, seven in 10 people visit the dentist each year but that number significantly drops for people from social grades D/E (55%). These levels are largely unchanged from previous years.
The survey also asked the public what factors would be most important to them before and during treatment from dental professionals.
The most important factors to be told about before treatment starts were the cost of the planned treatment (74%) and being provided with a description of the planned treatment (68%). Hygiene and cleanliness (69%) of the dental practice and the quality of care provided by the dental practice (64%) were identified as most important during treatment.
Shifting the balance sets out proposals to refocus the GDC’s fitness to practise enforcement powers so that they are used only in cases that are sufficiently serious, and which raise questions of patient safety or public confidence in dental services.
Public attitudes to misconduct and appropriate regulatory action in situations of poor care or wrongdoing were explored in the survey. It presented five examples of acting unprofessionally during treatment in their professional or personal time and asked the public to choose the sanction that they felt was most appropriate and proportionate for each case for dentists and dental nurses.
The examples were:
- A dentist accidentally prescribes/a dental nurse accidentally gives the wrong medication to a patient and there are serious side effects leading to the patient being admitted to hospital.
- A dentist removes the wrong tooth/a dental nurse read notes out wrong, as a result, a dentist removes the wrong tooth.
- A dentist/dental nurse posts racist comments on their personal Facebook page.
- A dentist/dental nurse is charged for drunk and disorderly behaviour on a night out.
- A dentist/dental nurse gives a patient a rude response to a complaint the patient has made about them
Patients were asked which sanction they though would be most appropriate for the GDC to take for each of the examples. The options were no action, reprimand, conditions, suspension, striking off the register and don’t know. It was explained that this action was over and above any action that other organisations such as the police may have taken.
In general, the public expect more severe action to be taken when wrongdoing takes place during treatment and involves poor care, as opposed to behaviour in their personal time, if it didn’t impact on their work. 42% thought that a dentist who accidentally prescribes the wrong medication leading to serious side effects should be suspended and 21% struck off, with 3% favouring no action.
However, 42% thought that no action should be taken when a dentist is charged by the police for drunk and disorderly behaviour on a night out with 13% saying that they should be suspended and 10% struck off.
Some behaviour in personal time was viewed differently, with public attitudes more divided. About half thought that a dentist should be removed from the register (19%) or suspended (28%) for posting racist comments on their Facebook page, while four in ten thought a reprimand (28%) or a no action should be taken (13%).
The research found that the public tended to treat dental nurses more leniently than dentists. For example, 52% thought they should receive a reprimand for a rude respond to a patient complaint about them. 56% thought that would be appropriate for the dentist.