What we want
In the UK, all dentists and dental care professionals are required by law to be a registrant of the General Dental Council (GDC), the regulatory body for dentistry.
We believe patients and practitioners deserve an effective and efficient dental regulator.
We support the principles outlined by the PSA for 'right-touch' regulation: proportionate, consistent, targeted, transparent, accountable and agile.
Improving public safety and confidence
The GDC has been working to change its tone and approach towards the dental profession, and its consultation on its corporate strategy for 2020-2022 showed a number of proposals for future work to improve its approach to regulation. We provided a detailed response at the time.
Our response highlighted the positive current approaches being taken by the GDC, including the wish to empower registrants to make clinical decisions without fear of inappropriate enforcement action; fighting the climate of fear and defensive dentistry; the work on moving upstream; professionalism; and engagement with the profession.
We did, however, outline our concerns about a continuing lack of transparency from the GDC, and we said the strategy document lacked clarity on outlining any detail on the need for the expenditure it was consulting on.
We also raised concerns about GDC outstepping its remit, particularly regarding initiatives that we see as a link to workforce planning.
The GDC’s current strategy and costed corporate plan can be seen on its website, although the 2020 pandemic will have affected some of these objectives this year.
In terms of good news, we were pleased to see that the GDC’s Annual Retention Fee (ARF) for dentists was finally reduced for 2020-2022; we have long argued the fee is inappropriate. The regulator has also committed to doing more work with the BDA and others on stress in the profession.
We are also very pleased to see that the possibility of paying the ARF in instalments is being further considered, and a feasibility study on this is now underway, with results expected early in 2021. The introduction of instalments would be welcomed across the profession and we believe would help newer dentists - who are facing high levels of debt on graduating, combined with high costs for their indemnity, as well as for their annual GDC fees - at a time when they have not yet started fully earning.
The GDC’s approach to supporting the profession during the 2020 pandemic has been variable.
Registrants will be aware of the significant anger created by the GDC’s decision not to lower the ARF during 2020 and by not providing an emergency payment by instalment option and the way in which this decision was communicated.
At other points, the GDC has acknowledged the difficulties faced by the profession this year and noted that it has a role to play to minimise the regulatory burden on registrants wherever possible and maximise flexibility for registrants to manage their professional activities in response to the challenges of COVID-19.
The future of dental regulation
Improvement of the regulatory system remains a core issue for us.
Since the low points of 2014 and 2015, the GDC has endeavored to improve its processes, and there have also been significant changes in its senior management team and in some policy approaches.
The area of fitness to practise (FTP), however, continues to fail some PSA requirements, and members affected continue to tell us of long delays or the use of inexperienced lawyers or inappropriate expert witnesses.
The Government had announced, at the end of 2015, its intention to consult on a complete shake-up of the healthcare regulatory system. Due to Brexit, this work has been on the backburner.
In the meantime, we have welcomed the GDC’s work to improve communication with the profession, as well as improved patient information on the GDC website
, denoting what the regulator can and cannot do, where the most appropriate place for a complaint is, and some support mechanisms for registrants going through the processes.
The profession-wide complaints handling initiative, facilitated by the GDC and including professional organisations and indemnity providers as well as other regulatory bodies has developed materials aimed at reducing complaints
being sent to the GDC by encouraging in-practice procedures.
Regulation of dental practices across the UK
Dental practices also come under the independent regulators of health and adult social care: