GDC Responds to Dental Protection’s Concerns

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Dental Protection survey shows dentists fear regulator investigation; GDC responds

Dental Protection is calling on the General Dental Council (GDC) and the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to do more as fear of investigations arising from COVID-19 and disruption to care, is becoming a growing concern for dentists’ mental wellbeing.

In a Dental Protection survey of nearly 500 UK dentists, conducted during October, two in five dentists (40%) said fear of investigations arising from difficult decisions made during COVID-19, or disruption to care, was having most impact on their mental wellbeing. This is up from 33% in the May 2020 survey.

This follows reports that 19 million fewer dental treatments – which includes check-ups and appointments for emergency treatment – were offered in England between March and October 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

Dental Protection is calling on the GDC to consider guidance for its staff detailing how to take the context created by Covid-19 into account when considering complaints about dentists, similar to that issued by the GMC in September.

It is also calling on the PSA, which oversees the work of all professional regulators of healthcare in the UK, to consider more detailed guidance on when an investigation would be conducted or not.

Raj Rattan (top) Dental Director at Dental Protection said: “While dental professionals tell us there are a range of issues impacting on their mental wellbeing – from concern for the health of family, friends and colleagues, through to loss of income and adapting to new ways of working – we are particularly concerned to see that fear of regulatory investigation due to Covid-19 disruption has increased since we surveyed our members back in May.

“Dentists remain focused on looking after their patients and providing high quality care. Concerns about the prospect of unfair action being taken against them for decisions taken in circumstances beyond their control is an unnecessary distraction and only exacerbates the stress that many are experiencing at this time.

“We feel the GDC could do more to reassure dentists and reduce the stress this is causing. In September, the GMC issued specific guidance for its staff detailing how to take the context created by Covid-19 into account when considering complaints about doctors.

“While we have some concerns as to whether this guidance will stand the test of time, it was a welcome gesture and offered much needed reassurance to doctors. The GDC could consider something similar and we will continue to engage with them on this.”

He continued: “We also believe dentists would welcome clear guidance from the PSA which would demonstrate in greater detail how the regulators will ensure a proportionate approach will be taken down the line. This is important, as it will likely be a number of years before COVID-19 related complaints against dentists might be handled and at this point memories of this difficult time may have faded.

“The prospect of a regulatory investigation down the line is clearly taking its toll on dentists’ mental wellbeing, and we hope that both the GDC and the PSA will consider what more can be done to reassure dentists who are doing their very best for their patients.”

GDC Executive Director, Fitness to Practise Transition, John Cullinane, responded: “In March of this year we, along with the other professional health and care regulators, made a commitment that environmental and human factors relating to COVID-19 would be taken into account in fitness to practise investigations and we stand by that commitment as we have throughout.

“We continue to make this clear in all our discussions with stakeholders and it is disappointing that any of them would imply there is cause for concern. This has been, and continues to be a challenging time, and we all have a shared interest in providing reassurance that professional judgements will always be looked at in the context in which they were made.

“As long as professionals assess risk appropriately, and make professional judgements accordingly, there should be no reason for concern. Our fitness to practise decision-makers are aware of our commitment and we continue to review our guidance to them to ensure they have a lasting point of reference.”