Guarantees on dental work should now be a talking point with patients according to the GDC’s new Standards for the Dental Team but a cautious approach must be taken, advises Russell Abrahams, a NASDAL member and a partner in the specialist law firm Abrahams Dresden.
Strictly, he says, guarantees aren’t necessary since private patients, are fully protected by the laws of negligence and Contract, and NHS patients are protected by both those laws and, indirectly, by the NHS Contract.
However, the new GDC ethical guidance says that a guarantee for dental work should be discussed with patients. The GDC is almost certainly mirroring advice issued a year ago by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which suggested private patients should ask dentists what guarantees were provided while NHS patients had a right to have any treatment which failed within the year to be redone.
The GDC guidance says that dentists should tell patients whether work is guaranteed, under what circumstances and for how long and any exclusions that might apply. The use of the word ‘should’ means that this is not mandatory as there may be situations where the duty would not apply.
Russell points out that while the new advice protects patients, it might expose the dentist to a greater liability than before and care should be taken. He said: “If the guarantee is worded in such a way that the practitioner is exposed to a greater extent than his liability at law, the patient may be entitled to more compensation than would have been the case under the general law. Worse still, there is a danger that the indemnity organisation will refuse to cover for any additional liability that was incurred but which had not previously been agreed to.”
He continued: “My advice to dentists is that if you should choose to produce a written guarantee, make sure that it offers no more than a patient would be entitled to under the laws of negligence and contract and check the wording of any guarantee with a specialist solicitor.”
Russell Abrahams, Solicitor, Abrahams Dresden LLP
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