Next Steps for Dentistry: Part 2 #WHFevents

Law & Regulation
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GDC’s Stefan Czerniawski looks at priorities for professional regulation #WHFevents

Stefan Czerniawski is an Executive Director with the General Dental Council. During the online Westminster Health Forum policy conference discussing the next steps for dentistry in England, he chose to shine a light onto the true role of the dental regulator, and he began by pointing out that its not all about Fitness to Practice and dealing with problem dental professionals.

The core function of the GDC, he explained, is to support the health and safety of dental patients. The regulator’s journey is to encourage professional standards through a regulatory system that works smoothly with the profession, it’s not just about catching the problems. The GDC is also about ensuring education works, that students can match the requirements of their roles when they start their professional careers.

Part of education, he added, is CPD, through which dental professionals can ensure their skills are up-to-date throughout their professional lives, all of which strengthens the foundations of safe dental practice and healthy, happy patients. Fitness to Practice procedures should only ever be a last resort.

Stefan observed that the restrictive conditions imposed by the current COVID crisis do not affect the core purpose of the GDC in promoting the most professional standards of care in practice; however, the GDC is supporting the adaptation of standards in the face of coronavirus – which means that any complaints will have to be taken in context. The reason behind any complaint must be considered first, before firing up the Fitness to Practice machine.

He said that the Council is aware that dental professionals have been yearning for absolute guidance that has not been forthcoming, but he also pointed that the body with the authority for closing practices during lockdown had been misunderstood; it was never part of the GDC’s remit to make that choice.

As for predicting long-term directions for policy, the future, he said, will turn out to be what it is. The only certain need will be for flexibility and agility. Stefan advised: “We now have a bit of breaking space – time to recognise and be prepared for whatever future arrives.”

He firmly stated that “effective dentistry must underpin the oral health of the population as a whole”. That means that non-patients are as important as patients. The GDC has been gathering data regarding registrant and patient experiences under COVID, and the worrying fact is that about half the patient respondees admitted that they have done nothing about addressing dental pain.

He continued by underlining the fact that dentistry is not successful if it cannot be accessed by people in need – no matter what their socio-economic status. There is no excuse for the huge variations in access across the four nations, but who would be the best person to talk to about the situation?

There are a number of worthy organisations in the dental sector, all working hard to meet their particular agendas, but Stefan was reminded of a quote by Henry Kissinger when he was first confronted by the new organisation called the European Union: “When I want to call Europe, who do I call?”

“In the same way,” Stefan asked, “if I want to call dentistry, who do I call?” There is no single coherent voice. He added that, as we try to find a way through this difficult situation, we must work to dispel the climate of fear. The dental profession and its regulators must work together to move dentistry forward into a positive light.

He said: “We need strong leadership, and I ask, when the CDOs speak about dentistry are they talking about dentistry as a whole or just the NHS? A purely NHS approach to the problem will never provide the leadership needed by mixed and private practices.’

Stefan concluded by addressing the dental recruitment crisis, whether those coming into the profession have been trained in the UK or introduced from overseas. The dental schools will only train about 1,000 dentists every year, so after Brexit there will be an urgent need to ease and simplify the passage onto our shores for those we want to recruit from abroad. We must also ensure that the concept of working in the UK remains an attractive proposition.