Dental practices want reassurance on how to support staff with menopause, says DDU’s HR partner

A recent legal judgement in which an employee was awarded £65,000 compensation after an employer failed to make reasonable adjustments when her role was affected by menopause symptoms, illustrates the importance for dental practices of having a menopause policy in place for staff.

The warning comes from Dental Defence Union (DDU) HR partner Peninsula, which provides a free employment law helpline for DDU principal members.

Vicky Kitney from Peninsula said it was seeing an increase in enquiries from dental principals about accommodating staff with menopause symptoms.

Ms Kitney said: “From 1st June 2023 to 31st August 2023, Peninsula received over 120 calls and emails from DDU members requesting advice on a range of HR matters.

“With the growing awareness of the need to support women with menopausal symptoms, we are seeing a steady stream of enquiries from dental practices about this issue. These account for a small but significant number of cases and the trend is increasing.

“Typical scenarios include practices who want to accommodate staff experiencing symptoms like hot flushes, as well as enquiries about supporting those who may be struggling with performance issues like forgetfulness.

“The recent legal judgement  is a reminder for all employers to ensure they make adjustments and support employees with menopause symptoms. 

“Fostering an open, inclusive environment where employees feel they can raise concerns about how the menopause is affecting them with no stigma or embarrassment, will help practices in becoming menopause friendly employers.”

Debbie Herbst

Debbie Herbst, DDU dento-legal adviser said:

“It’s encouraging to know that practices are seeking out expert advice on this issue. They are doing their utmost to deliver quality patient care in difficult and pressurised circumstances and will be only too aware of the need to support and retain team members.

“Research has shown that 10% of women leave their jobs and many more are reducing their hours or passing up promotions because of their menopausal symptoms. Ensuring colleagues feel supported is an important part of addressing this concern. It should also help in meeting the overall commitments set out in NHS England’s Long Term Workforce Plan, which emphasises the need to retain valued employees by encouraging them to stay in the workplace.”

The DDU website has further advice for practices on how to support staff with menopause symptoms.

DDU principal members get free access to an employment law helpline from Peninsula, a leading provider of employment law and health and safety services in the UK.

Cap to control disproportionate legal costs in clinical negligence claims is important first step, says DDU

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has welcomed the announcement by the government that it is to cap legal costs in lower value clinical negligence cases. The leading not for profit indemnifier says this is likely to make some impact on disproportionate legal costs.

John Makin, Head of the DDU, said: “We welcome that the government has finally responded to this much anticipated consultation, however, this development should only ever be seen as the start.

“The DDU has always believed that for this scheme to have a meaningful impact on rising clinical negligence costs, it should be far more ambitious. Rather than just applying to claims up to £25,000, it should include claims up to £250,000.

“However, this is an important first step given that disproportionate legal costs are one of several defects in the current litigation system and affect lower value claims.

“In DDU cases, during 2022 the average sum paid in claimants’ legal costs on dental claims settled for up to £10,000 was over £12,300, while for claims settled between £10,000 and £25,000, the average was around £21,000. It cannot be right for legal costs paid to claimants’ lawyers to regularly exceed the damages paid to claimants.”

DDU introduces peer support service to aid emotionally drained workforce

Dental professionals involved in stressful General Dental Council (GDC) investigations are being offered a new peer support service from the Dental Defence Union (DDU).

Launched in 2020 to help medical professionals undergoing GMC investigations, the service has now been expanded to include DDU members. The peer support programme connects members with a reassuring colleague who has been through a similar experience.

The DDU made the announcement to coincide with its parent company, the Medical Defence Union (MDU), publishing its latest annual report for 2022. Dr Matthew Lee, MDU chief executive, said: “We are delighted to be able to extend the peer support programme to our dental professional members. The programme connects members who are struggling with a GDC investigation with a colleague who has been through a similar process. These colleagues offer personal support, guidance and reassurance.

“Members have told us time and again that dealing with incidents can impact both their professional and personal lives. Having a conversation with a colleague who has been through something similar and come out of the other side, can be a huge comfort.”

Dr Tom Norfolk

Dr Tom Norfolk MDU vice president, said: “The peer support service is an important part of the wellbeing services we offer to members. Undergoing a GDC investigation is one of the most stressful experiences a dental professional can face, and talking to a colleague who has been through a similar experience can really help.

“As well as the peer support programme, our dedicated team of dento-legal and medico-legal advisers took over 21,000 calls on our advice lines in 2022.

“As a mutual, defence organisation we are owned and led by healthcare professionals who know what it’s like to be on the frontline of patient care. At a time of such pressure, members’ interests are at the heart of everything we do. The steady growth in members we have seen in 2022 is testament to our strengths.”

Further results highlighted in the MDU’s annual report for 2022 include:

  • 50% of dental member cases at the GDC Practice Committee were concluded with no finding of impairment. The equivalent GDC figure for outcomes overall is 27% (for 2021).
  • During 2022, 66% of dental claims were closed without damages being paid. For medical and dental cases that made it to trial, we had a success rate of 60%.
  • 99% of calls to our dento legal advice lines were answered within 20 seconds.

Workforce plan must go hand in hand with reforms to regulation and clinical negligence law, says DDU

Responding to today’s publication of the NHS Long Term Workforce plan, Dr Matthew Lee, chief executive of the MDU, the DDU’s parent company, said:

“The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is a welcome step forward – but it is precisely that, a first step on a journey to improve the working conditions of healthcare professionals in the NHS.

“Our members working in the NHS are doing their utmost to deliver exceptional patient care in the most difficult and pressured of circumstances. For too many, this is sadly impacting on their own health and their ability to care safely for patients.

“There is much to welcome in this plan, but workforce retention in the NHS is not helped if the regulatory system that healthcare professionals are subjected to is as outdated as the ones currently operated by the GDC and other regulators. Long awaited reform of these regulators must now urgently follow today’s announcement.

“You also cannot harness every penny possible in the NHS towards front line patient care if billions of pounds every year are leaving the system in clinical negligence settlements, because of a legal system that is no longer fit for purpose – with certain laws governing compensation being older than the NHS itself. The government has long promised action to address the unsustainable cost of clinical negligence and it’s now time for concrete proposals to see the light of day.

“The government has pledged an additional £2.4 billion to fund additional education and training places. But it is a sobering thought that this amount would be eclipsed in one year alone by the annual cost of harm reported by NHS Resolution. In 2021/22 this figure stood at over £13 billion. These amounts cannot be ignored in discussions about funding for more healthcare professionals. We need the government to tackle this issue.

“The DDU continues to make a strong case for these reforms with regulators and the government.”

DDU reminds dental professionals to check and declare CPD as deadline approaches

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) is reminding dental professionals to ensure their continuing professional development (CPD) is up to date ahead of renewing their registration with the General Dental Council (GDC).

The reminder comes as the GDC has announced a simplified process for dental professionals to declare CPD when restoring their registration. It means those who have been off the register for less than 12 months and have always complied with CPD, will be able to sign a declaration that it is up to date, rather than send a copy of their full CPD record.

The new process is in place in time for the deadline for dental care professionals to renew and pay their annual retention fee (ARF) on 31 July.

John Makin, head of the DDU said: “The GDC acknowledges this change is a small step. However more needs to be done to make registration and restoration quicker and easier.

“In the past, a number of DDU members have waited weeks and in some cases months to be restored because of administrative difficulties, so this is a positive development. Nobody wants to see dental professionals drop off the register because of administrative lapses, so we are reminding all registrants to check they have everything needed to renew in good time.

The GDC has urged all dental care professionals to log onto eGDC to check how much CPD they need to complete before they renew their registration and to contact them if they aren’t sure.

The DDU’s checklist to minimise the risks of registration lapses includes:

  • Ensure you declare appropriate CPD requirements (remembering that you cannot declare zero hours for two years running including across two separate cycles) and that the declaration goes through correctly.
  • Set up a reminder at the time your ARF is due annually or quarterly if you pay by instalments. Check everything is in order for a successful renewal and that payment has been made successfully.
  • Ensure your contact and bank details with the GDC are up to date.
  • Try to ensure emails don’t go into spam by adding the relevant address to your contact list and marking past emails as legitimate. Keep an eye on your spam folder around renewal time, just in case.
  • If your GDC registration lapses, inform your dental defence organisation as soon as possible.
  • You will not be able to treat patients until your registration is restored.

Advice on paying the ARF and declaring CPD requirements is on the DDU website.

DDU appoints regulatory law specialist to head legal team

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has appointed a solicitor specialising in regulatory and criminal legal proceedings as its new head of legal services. Nick Tennant has been promoted to the role after 15 years working as a solicitor in the defence organisation’s in-house legal team. He oversees the work of an expert team of 24 solicitors, three paralegals and support staff.

The DDU’s in-house legal department supports dentists and other healthcare professionals facing negligence claims, GDC investigations, criminal investigations and inquests. The team has gone from strength to strength since it was first established thirty years ago.

Nick takes over from Joanne Bateman, who has recently retired after more than seven years in the job. Nick commented:

“It is a great honour to be taking over from Jo who has overseen a very successful period for our team.

“We work closely with the DDU’s dentolegal advisers to secure the best outcomes for our members and understand that, at this time of heightened pressure in healthcare, our members are under incredible strain when they come to us for support.

“The results we achieve in supporting members with GDC investigations are a great example of the uncompromising defence we provide. In 2022, our in-house team resolved almost 80% of cases without referral to a Practice Committee, where we represented members at the case examiner stage. Of those that proceeded to a Practice Committee, there was no finding of impairment against our members in 50% of cases. This represents a much better outcome for our members when compared to the most recent figures for cases overall from the GDC.

“I am really looking forward to building on the strengths of such a high performing team which continues to help members navigate the difficult dentolegal environment.”

John Makin, head of the DDU said:

“We know from our own research that more than eight in ten dental professionals say workplace pressures have increased over the last year. The latest NHS staff survey results also show high levels of burnout with staff feeling stressed and demoralised. If you then throw a dentolegal investigation into the mix, it can be truly devastating for dental professionals. That’s why the work of our in-house legal team is so crucial at supporting members and ensuring they get a fair hearing.

“I am confident that Nick and the team will continue to successfully guide, support and defend members with the myriad of dentolegal investigations encountered during their careers.”

DDU successfully supports member facing ‘blue on blue’ complaint

A dental professional who faced a very stressful complaint, made to NHS England by a colleague has shared how the Dental Defence Union (DDU) supported her during the subsequent investigation.

In the latest edition of the DDU journal, the member describes the impact the experience, which lasted for a number of years, had on both her physical and mental health and the practical support and advice provided by the DDU alongside the British Dental Association.

The member explained:  

“The adviser’s help was invaluable. It was key to have another pair of eyes [throughout the process] because I think my anger and frustration were probably coming through. This was the first time I had needed the DDU for anything more than dento-legal advice since I joined in my final year at dental school and I had really fantastic support.

“In many ways I was lucky. If this had to happen, at least I was at a point in my career when I had gained enough knowledge and experience to get out of a hole and I could call on the DDU. But imagine you don’t have access to that expertise? Where would you be?”

Unfortunately, the number of cases raised by fellow registrants, so-called ‘blue-on-blue’ complaints, made up 9 per cent of all concerns received by the GDC in 2021. To try to avoid the risk of personal, financial or business matters spilling over, the DDU’s advice is to have robust and equitable arrangements, such as associate and partnership agreements, in place from the outset. Where disagreements do arise it is important for the parties to keep communication channels open with a view to matters being resolved proportionately and professionally.

Leo Briggs, deputy head of the DDU said: “Despite the positive outcome for our member, it cannot be overlooked that the complaint and subsequent investigation took more than two years to reach a conclusion and this was undoubtedly stressful for the member.

“At the DDU, we guide, support and defend members and as part of that we act in their best interests and safeguard their professional reputations. We put our members at the heart of decisions about how their case is managed.” 

Read the full DDU journal here.

DDU disappointed that GDC at back of the queue for regulatory reform

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has expressed disappointment and dismay at a government announcement confirming that the General Dental Council (GDC) is not one of the healthcare regulators to be prioritised for reform.

A timetable has just been published by the Department of Health and Social Care on reforming healthcare professional regulators. The update confirms that along with the General Medical Council (GMC), the regulators to first benefit from reform will be the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The Department says this is based on ‘criteria including the size of registrant base, the need for reform, and regulators’ readiness to implement the changes.’ It says it will then make changes for the remaining regulators, including the GDC, although no timetable is provided for this.

John Makin, head of the DDU, said:

“It is disappointing that the Department of Health and Social Care has put the GDC well down the list of regulators that will be given the powers it needs to reform regulation.

“We’ve repeatedly pointed out that dental professionals across the UK deserve to know that if they face the stress of a fitness to practise investigation, their regulator will be working to a modern, proportionate, and timely process. Currently, the GDC is operating under outdated legislation that disadvantages the profession, patients and the GDC itself.

“Last year, the MDU, the DDU’s parent company, coordinated a letter with other healthcare leaders to the Secretary of State for Health, calling on the government not to delay fundamental reforms needed to modernise the regulators.

“We urge the Department of Health and Social Care to publish the legislation needed to modernise dental professional regulation. A fitness to practise process is one of the most stressful experiences a dental professional can have in their career, and current legislation is crying out for change.”

DDU survey reveals Dental professionals turn to coping mechanisms to deal with intense workplace pressures

More than eight in 10 (86%) dental professionals say that workplace pressures have increased in the past two to three years, a new Dental Defence Union (DDU) survey has revealed. Dental professionals are turning to coping mechanisms like mindfulness, breathing exercises and breaks in the fresh air to cope.

The DDU survey of 495 dental professionals also found nearly four in 10 (39%) said they were likely to retire or leave practice in the next five years. Half (52%) said they had reduced their hours to cope with workplace pressures.

John Makin, head of the DDU, said: “Our members are a resilient bunch. They’re used to dealing with the extreme demands of their roles. However, you can only stretch a piece of elastic so far. Pressures are intensifying, caused by a number of issues outside of dental professionals’ control. These include an increase in treatment needs caused by the pandemic, rising patient expectations and treatment and referral delays.  

“We are calling on the government to put the necessary resources and support in place to reduce delays and meet treatment demand. This will help to reduce the stress being experienced by dental professionals. It will also help them to treat patients safely and to a good standard.”

Other findings from the research were:

  • Three in 10 respondents (31%) said they used mindfulness and breathing exercises as a coping strategy, while six in 10 (65%) said they took a break by exercising in the fresh air.
  • Six in 10 dental professionals (60%) said relationships with patients and colleagues had become more strained over the past two or three years.
  • Nine in 10 (91%) said they felt worn out at the end of a working day and eight in 10 (84%) said they felt burned out.
  • A fifth (20%) had experienced a patient complaint or safety incident and a similar proportion had been abused or threatened (19%).
  • Despite this, nearly all respondents (93%) said patients and colleagues treated them with respect.

What dental professionals said:

  1. “Workplace pressures should never be a factor in whether we can treat patients safely, yet these pressures are increasingly placing barriers in the day-to-day work of dentists around the country” – dental professional
  2. “As we couldn’t see patients for routine appointments [during the pandemic] they’ve gone from having stable teeth pre pandemic to having multiple problems needing treatment or extraction. Understandably some patients are shocked and upset about this and blame us for it. It means that patients who previously were stable now need lots of treatments further adding to the backlog.” – dental professional
  3. “I use mindfulness in everyday situations to help me be fully aware of where I am and what I’m doing without becoming overwhelmed or overreacting to stressful situations. I use breathing techniques and mindfulness apps. The techniques help me to avoid worrying about things that may or may not happen.” –  Catherine Hemingway, dentist
  4. “I try to ensure I give myself breaks during the day and avoid the temptation to book patients during lunch breaks or after work. I aim to take a break every couple of hours, take some deep breaths and have a stroll. As clinicians, we can find it difficult to turn off, but I try to do something totally different when I’m not working.” – Andrew Chandrapal, a dental practice principal and DDU council member.
  5. “One of Covid’s legacies is my willingness to diversify my working practices to cope with pressures. I now work part time as a DDU dento-legal adviser alongside my clinical and training roles. I think it’s important to allow yourself time to decompress after a stressful working day. I get plenty of fresh air and exercise through coaching an under 16s rugby team in my spare time.” – James Kingham a general dental practitioner and training programme director for Health Education England.
  6. “I like to get out of at lunch time for a 20min walk. That change in air and space combined with a brisk walk (and sometimes a podcast) powers me up for the afternoon. In summer, I enjoy an evening walk to relieve the day’s stresses. Having an informal chat to colleagues helps. My colleagues are a friendly, sociable group with lots of positive ideas and sensible suggestions. Getting a good night’s sleep fires me up for another day.” – Tom Norfolk, a general dental practitioner and DDU vice chairman.

Wellbeing resources are available for DDU members signposting them of where they can get help.

The DDU surveyed a sample of dental professionals (495) in December 2022 and received a 6% response rate. Respondents included: GDPs (55%), dental hygienist/therapists (21%), newly qualified dentists (6%), community dentists (6%), hospital dentists (6%) and dental nurses (5%).

DDU launches new dento-legal CPD case studies

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has today launched a new series of dento-legal case studies in which members can receive guidance and advice, as well as the chance to get 45 minutes free verifiable continuing professional development (CPD) by passing the related assessment.

The DDU has launched these modules to support dental members ahead of them submitting the GDC’s CPD requirements before the December deadline.

The case studies are based on the sorts of issues and dilemmas faced by members on a daily basis and give members the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences – as well as demonstrating how the DDU can help when members need it the most.  

Topics covered in the case studies include:

  • Confrontational and aggressive patients
  • Assessing a patient’s capacity to give consent
  • Direct access
  • What to do following a potential data breach

These CPD case studies are just one of the ways that the DDU supports its members. Other services include access to a free employment law advice line for practice principals, contract checking service for associates, principals and self-employed hygienists/therapists and an exclusive rate on accountancy, tax and business advisory services. 

John Makin, head of the DDU, said:

“I’m delighted that we are now offering these new CPD case studies to our members. Completion of the modules contributes verifiable CPD within the recommended categories to help meet the GDCs requirements, but more importantly gives an insight into some of the tricky situations that can arise in practice and how to manage the risks they can pose.”

Click here to find out more about the dento-legal CPD case studies.