Taking the dental hospital to task…

I’ve been very unhappy with my local dental hospital and with very good reason. A combination of thoughtlessness, rudeness and incredibly bad use of language led me to make a formal complaint about them and this morning I met their Chief Nurse (think Matron) and the Deputy Manager of the hospital.

All week I have been preparing notes that centred around responses to my complaint and responses to those responses and as I looked at the letters I began to feel more and more that I was heading to the Ombudsman.

The tone of the letters were dispassionate and unfeeling and the language contained such gems as, “all I can do is apologise” and “I’m sorry that you disagree with me”. They sound innocuous but are passive aggressive terms that imply denial of the right to legitimately criticise and show concerns that people just aren’t getting the help that they need.

At the foot of the first letter was the contact details of the Ombudsman with encouragement to take the matter to them if I didn’t feel my concerns had been addressed and I really did consider it but instead I rang PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Services) who had been giving me advice and the woman I spoke to there was amazingly supportive. She offered to arrange a meeting with the people I spoke with today and so that’s where I spent this morning.

During my pre-meeting discussion with the woman from PALS I began to realise that it would not be a fruitless meeting and that I could actually come away with some significant changes to the system including the way teaching students about phobias and mental health was delivered, better communication between patient and dentist and a much more sensitive, patient-centred approach to people with phobias and mental health problems.

The meeting was open and frank to say the least. The body language around the table became a pattern of mirrors and synchronised itself. We quickly began to plan solutions and the meeting became less and less about a series of complaints and more and more about how to improve things for everybody.

As a result the way that dental students are taught about mental health will be reviewed and there is every likelihood that I’ll be asked to participate in that training. Information leaflets for patients are being rewritten and I have been asked to review them and suggest appropriate changes. All staff who come into contact with patients will be educated about appropriate language and letters to patients will be carefully and considerately written.

One issue they raised was very interesting and they raised it in order to solicit my advice. They get referrals for people who claim to have dental phobia but who aren’t really phobic and so we discussed a way of assessment at GP consultations that would help decide whether a referral to the dentist who specialises in phobias is appropriate. This thinning out of people will make it quicker for people with genuine phobias to see a dentist in secure surroundings.

It’s all going to take time but it’s going to happen. I’ve always said I change the world one small thing at a time but today I think I did a big thing and I’m proud of it.