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.
The GDC has consistently failed to meet the fitness to practise standards set by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), the body that oversees the UK's professional healthcare regulators.
The GDC is now considered the worst performing of the UK's healthcare regulators. Patients and practitioners have been left in limbo for up to 18-months when complaints are raised.
We've argued that it is the most expensive and the least effective regulator in Britain.
In 2014, we challenged a GDC consultation to increase annual retention fees (ARF) by 64%, from £576 to a proposed £945.
While the GDC was found to have acted unlawfully at the High Court, it was given permission to increase the fees to £890 (as it had already started collecting them at that rate). This fee remains in place in 2017.
What do we want?
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.
We believe registrants should not have to pay the price for mismanagement at their regulator, and we are campaigning for change.
Better dental regulation
Improvement of the regulatory system remains a core issue for us. Since the low points of 2014 and 2015, the GDC has endeavoured to improve its processes, and there have also been significant changes in the senior management team and in some policy approaches.
The area of fitness to practise, 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 now appears to be on the backburner.
In the meantime, the GDC has undertaken 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.
Plans on better filtering of complaints that come to the GDC and a profession-wide complaints handling initiative are underway, although they have yet to bear fruit.
GDC's ‘Shifting the balance’ and our response
In January 2017, the GDC published a discussion document on its ideas for the way forward for dental regulation called 'Shifting the balance'.
This outlined that the GDC believes that the current model of dental professional regulation has become unsustainable, and that it was cumbersome, inefficient and did not do enough to put patient safety at its heart.
The GDC has outlined four areas of activity for the coming years:
- Moving upstream (placing greater emphasis on empowering the profession to focus on prevention of problems)
- First tier complaints (dealing with complaints at the source)
- Working with partners (including the systems regulators and the NHS in each of the four nations, professional associations, indemnity providers and employers)
- Refocusing fitness to practise (improving the definition of ‘serious’ professional misconduct so that only the most serious cases are considered by the regulator).
Read our summary points and our full response to the GDC's document.
Your views on better regulation
We surveyed our membership on some of the GDC's proposals and other areas of regulation, including trust in the regulator.
Key points dentists' made included:
- Lack of confidence: Confidence among dentists in the GDC's ability to deliver on its reform agenda remained low, with 87% of respondents to our survey neither 'confident' nor 'very confident' in the Council.
- Fitness to practise: The main priority for action was the fitness to practise system, while the concept of upstreaming was mostly supported. Some areas in the document were received positively, but others criticised as an extension of remit.
- GDC fees: Our member survey also showed that dentists would like to support a dental-only regulator, but not at any cost, and that they could envisage a merger with other regulators if it meant better value for money. There was also a call to ensure that the ARF for dentists is reduced for 2018.
- Dental complaints service: As part of the response, we've called for a full, independent review of the work of the Dental Complaints Service (DCS); as, contrary to the GDC’s own commentary, a large majority of dentists with experience of the service rate it as ‘poor’. There was also support for the service to be moved away from the GDC.