Thursday, 6 May 2010

Dentists, cancelled appointments and unfair charges

Whilst every other blogger in the UK is probably blogging on today’s general election, I thought I’d reserve comment until the results are in.  I’ll be away for a long weekend, so this means I’ll post my thoughts on the election results next Tuesday.

I’ve just returned from a check-up with my (NHS) dentist and I’ve got a minor grievance with the service they offer (which means this post is likely to just be a personal rant).

This is what happened:

I was supposed to have an appointment for this routine check-up last Wednesday (28th April).  Now, my dentist is located a little way out of town, because there are a limited number of NHS dentists in my area and, at the time, was the only one I could find that was taking on more patients.  Also, I do not drive, so rely on public transport to get to/from the dental surgery.

So, having made the 30 minute trip to the dentist, via combination of bus and walking, I was a little annoyed to find that the dentist was unavailable.  I was told that he was called away on an emergency, which of course I understand cannot be helped.  The receptionist informed me that they had tried to contact me and on returning home later (another 30 minute trip) I discovered I had two voice-mails on my home phone from the surgery.  This wasn’t of much use however, as I’m out at work during the day – not sitting around the house waiting on calls from my dentist.

The problem I have is this:

If I had done the same to them as they did to me, they would have charged me £15 for wasting their time.  I know this because it says so on the little appointment cards* they hand out.  My girlfriend was personally subject to such a charge despite repeated attempts to contact the dental surgery to cancel a previous appointment – what do you do if their phone lines are constantly engaged (presumably with people phoning to complain about being unfairly charged)?

The charges themselves are perfectly reasonable.  I understand that their purpose is to discourage people from making appointments that they can't keep or cancelling at the last minute - taking up an appointment that could have been used by someone else and wasting the dentist's time.

But, is my time, and that of other patients not also valuable?  Surely by the dental surgery’s own rules I should be entitled to charge them for an hour of my time (the length of time for my pointless round-trip)?  Maybe it’s for the greater good though – if everyone did this it could put a lot of dentists out of business – my rates are considerably more than £15 per hour.

* “Please give at least 24 hours notice of cancellation Otherwise a fee will be charged.”
** On the upside my dentist has told me that my teeth are in such good condition that I don't need to come in for a 6 monthly check up all the time and I now only need to visit the dentist's once a year.

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