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GDC reforms must safeguard dentists with health concerns


  Posted by: The Probe      23rd July 2021

John Makin, head of the DDU on why proposed regulatory reforms could penalise the most vulnerable dental professionals.

The extreme pressure placed on healthcare professionals by the pandemic has been well documented but is non the less shocking. A recent survey by charity the Laura Hyde foundation revealed the troubling findings that more than 300 healthcare professionals attempted to take their own lives during 2020 as they responded to the pandemic. The DDU’s own research has found that over three quarters of some 400 dental professionals surveyed feel stressed or anxious on a weekly basis.

As dental practitioners have worked so hard to deliver safe care to patients during the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that they can place their faith in their regulator if facing a GDC investigation.

Long awaited proposals have now been published by the Department of Health and Social care on regulating professionals and protecting the public. There is much to applaud in the suggestions aimed at modernising and streamlining procedures. For example, the consultation sets out proposals for reforming fitness to practise to allow for the “safe and quick conclusion of many cases without the need for expensive and lengthy panel hearings”.

However, one proposal has caused us concern. Removing health as a category of impairment in fitness to practise cases, we believe would be a retrograde step. The government motive for this, which we support, are that such concerns should usually be dealt with outside a fitness to practise process. However, there will inevitably be some cases where health concerns lead to a formal process. Such cases would instead be dealt with under the banner of ‘lack of competence’. The terminology will surely add to the distress for any dental professional who is struggling with their physical or mental health under the strain of an investigation. 

In recent years, the GDC has established measures for sensitively managing these concerns, such as ensuring details about a clinician’s health are separated from other publicly available content about fitness to practise matters.

Removing the health category for fitness to practise cases risks undoing these advances. The practical effect of this will be to penalise the most vulnerable doctors. We believe it is essential to retain separate procedures for dealing with dental professionals with health problems.

Dental professionals have waited a long time to see the GDC reformed and the pandemic has highlighted the need for that reform to be delivered at pace. Frustratingly, the GDC is not included in the first priority group for reform. The DDU strongly believes dental professional regulation must not be put to the back of the line. It’s vital the GDC is provided with the powers its needs to be a stronger and more flexible regulator without further delay.

See more about the DDU’s views on healthcare regulation on our

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