Give GDC powers to reform fitness to practise says DDU

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) says reform of the healthcare regulators should include giving the GDC powers to set up a separate and independent tribunal to decide whether dental professionals are fit to practise.

Responding to the government consultation on regulating professionals and protecting the public, the DDU said that there is much to applaud in the proposals aimed at modernising and streamlining fitness to practise procedures and that it offers an opportunity for the GDC to instigate widespread reforms of fitness to practise regulation.

John Makin, head of the DDU, explained: “The welcome intention behind these proposals is to give healthcare regulators greater flexibility, particularly in the management of fitness to practise procedures. At the moment the GDC performs both the role of investigator and adjudicator of complaints. We believe the regulator should be given the powers to establish a separate, independent body, to decide whether a registrant is fit to practise, akin to how the GMC operates with the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).

“This would help to ensure the GDC is at arm’s length from decisions about whether a dental professional is fit to practise, which would go some way to reassuring dental professionals about the objectivity of the process.

“In addition, unlike the GMC which does not ordinarily investigate complaints that date back more than five years, the GDC can do so. This means dental professionals can be subjected to fitness to practise proceedings for historic complaints at great human and financial cost. The government is suggesting that this five-year rule is scrapped for healthcare regulators like the GMC, which have this safeguard in place. Instead, we believe it is imperative that such safeguards are retained and expanded to include GDC cases.  

“This is a great opportunity for the GDC to become a more responsive and flexible regulator. We hope the government and GDC seize the considerable opportunities presented in the consultation for much needed reform.”

DDU adds vicarious liability indemnity for practice principal and corporate members

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has announced that principal and corporate members can now access assistance with vicarious liability claims. This has been included from 1st June and means that existing members (including retired members) can now seek DDU assistance in relation to clinical negligence claims made against them in respect of care provided by a dental professional for whom it is alleged they are vicariously liable.

This additional indemnity is being provided automatically at no additional cost for current members and will also be included for prospective members who join after 1st June 2021. Existing members do not need to take any action to receive the new aspect of membership.

This new indemnity benefit applies to new claims notified after 1st June but can include claims arising from clinical treatment provided at any time in the past when a principal or corporate body was in benefit of DDU membership.

John Makin, head of the DDU said:

“Many DDU members have been concerned following the outcome of a recent county court judgement in which it was found that the dental practice owner could be held vicariously liable for the clinical practice of an associate working at their practice.

“At the DDU, we understand and share these concerns and as part of our commitment to support, guide and defend our members we are constantly looking to ensure our products and services meet members’ needs and keep pace with current developments. Consequently, we are delighted to be able to include indemnity for vicarious clinical negligence claims as a standard benefit of DDU membership.

“I should stress the need for all treating dentists to have their own indemnity in place – indeed it is a regulatory requirement that they do so. In almost all cases where a clinical negligence claim is pursued against a practice owner vicariously, we still expect the indemnity of the treating dentist to respond but this new ‘belt and braces’ indemnity for our dental principal and corporate members who employ or contract with other dentists will provide additional peace of mind.

“We will be writing to all of our principal dentists and corporate members with details of this important change in member benefits.” 

For further information on vicarious liability please visit: https://www.theddu.com/my-membership/member-guide

New chief executive at DDU vows continued support for members in challenging times

The Medical Defence Union (MDU), the parent company of the Dental Defence Union (DDU), today announced that it has appointed Dr Matthew Lee as its new chief executive. Dr Lee will take over from Dr Christine Tomkins, who is retiring in September after a long career supporting members. Dr Tomkins has been in the role since 2009 and worked for the company for more than 36 years.

Dr Lee is currently director of professional services at the DDU, with responsibility for key services members rely on including 24-hour dento-legal advisory support, claims handling, legal services and clinical risk management. Dr Lee joined the organisation in 2000 from a background in paediatrics and anaesthetics in the Wessex region. He initially worked for the company as a medico-legal adviser and clinical risk manager before taking on broader management responsibilities.

Dr Lee commented: “It’s a great privilege to be appointed to this role and I look forward to taking over Christine’s work of championing the dento-legal interests of our members.

“During the pandemic, our members have been under tremendous pressure and we know that many challenges lie ahead such as supporting them with increasing numbers of complaints and claims. In the 20 years since I joined the company I have watched it grow and modernise while retaining an absolute focus on member needs. Over the next few years I aim to build on that success, ensuring that our services are not just of the highest quality but also constantly evolving to meet the changing realities of modern dental practice.

“We aim to broaden the range of benefits and services we provide in line with being a not-for-profit, wholly member-owned company that exists for no other reason than to support, guide and defend our members in their everyday work. I am delighted to have the opportunity to take on this exciting and challenging role and look forward to leading us from strength to strength.”

John Makin, head of the DDU said: “We are proud to continue our long tradition of being the only UK medical defence organisation with a clinician at the helm. Being a mutual, dentists for dentists organisation, Matt’s appointment is a welcome one, ensuring we continue to put members at the heart of everything we do.”

Dr Christine Tomkins added: “I’m delighted Matt will be taking over from me later this year. He has great depth and breadth of experience and a deep understanding of our work and our commitment to members. I am confident he will ensure continuing success in the years ahead.”   

DDU appoints new commercial director as digital services grow

The Medical Defence Union (MDU), the parent company of the Dental Defence Union (DDU), has appointed Andrew Archibald to the role of commercial director.

Andrew and team are responsible for leading the development and growth of the DDU’s products and services to 200,000 dental and medical members. Having worked in a range of industries including insurance, healthcare and hospitality, Andrew has extensive experience of helping organisations develop and improve their digital services and customer experience.

The DDU has seen increasing demand for its online educational and dento-legal content, which has been freely available to healthcare professionals during the pandemic. Over 48,000 healthcare professionals have attended virtual webinars and educational seminars on topics such as dento-legal challenges of working in the pandemic and remote consultations and website visitors have increased by 28% over the past year.

Andrew commented: “I am proud to join a company with such strong values as a not-for-profit mutual organisation focussed on members. I was attracted here by the DDU’s commitment to providing high quality dento-legal services. In this challenging period it’s a privilege to be in a position to serve and support our members and help them navigate unchartered waters.

“I am pleased to work with such an experienced team and look forward to continuing the successful development of our digital services for members.”

John Makin, head of the DDU, said: “Andrew joins us at a time when member satisfaction is at a record high and membership numbers are growing. We know dentistry is under extreme pressure and understand how vital it is that we support members with the challenges that lie ahead, such as increased complaints and claims. I warmly welcome Andrew to the team and am confident his experience of working for customer-focussed organisations will benefit our members.”

Andrew Archibald

Prior to joining the organisation Andrew worked in senior commercial, marketing and operational roles across a diverse range of industries, including insurance, healthcare and hospitality. Andrew began his career in the NHS as a management trainee and is a Non-Executive Director for Ashgate Hospice, in Derbyshire. Andrew succeeds Nick Dungay who led the department for 21 years and recently retired.

DDU successfully defends dentist in court against legal claim

A dentist who faced a very stressful clinical negligence claim after carrying out root canal treatment, has been successfully defended in court by the Dental Defence Union (DDU).

It was alleged that the DDU member, who was an experienced dentist, did not perform an adequate root canal treatment and provided an ill-fitting crown. However the judge agreed with the expert instructed by the DDU who, supporting the member’s actions, concluded that the treatment was carried out to a reasonable standard. The claim was won at trial as a result.

The claimant, who was represented by Dental Law Partnership, was seeking £18,000 in compensation and legal costs. However, with the dentist’s reputation on the line, the case was about much more than financial consequences as John Makin, head of the DDU, explains:

“Our dentists for dentists’ ethos means we understand the need to support the reputation of individual members and the wider profession. In this case, it may have been more economical to settle the claim out of court because of the legal fees involved in a trial. However, our experienced claims handlers were confident of mounting a robust defence of the members’ actions all the way to court and this approach proved justified.”

The dentist commented: “It was a very arduous time however throughout the process, the DDU team were very helpful and hard working. The court case lasted three days and the experience was like being on a rollercoaster with ups and downs. Hopefully this result will reduce the likelihood of claims and the resulting stress that we as dentists experience even when we have carried out treatment within best practice and to the best of our abilities. Thank you to the DDU for standing by me.”

John Makin concluded: “Despite the positive outcome for our member, it cannot be overlooked that the claim took more than two years to reach a conclusion and this was undoubtedly stressful for those involved. In addition, the legal costs, which were met by the DDU, were substantial.

“The DDU successfully defended almost 60% of dental claims over a recent 12 month period, and it is unusual for a case to reach a court hearing. Our role is to relieve the burden for our members, acting in their best interests and safeguarding professional reputations. We do not settle claims for the sake of expediency and put our members at the heart of decisions about how their case is managed.” 

* Maxwell v Valliani and ANOR. County Court (Manchester) [2021]

DDU survey finds that over three quarters of dental professionals feel stressed or anxious on a weekly basis

New research published by the Dental Defence Union (DDU) has seen 78 per cent of dental members surveyed state that they feel stressed and/or anxious on a weekly basis.

The DDU surveyed 396 members and also found that:

  • 45 per cent feel they are unable to spend adequate time with patients
  • 33 per cent feel they are unable to do their jobs effectively
  • 53 per cent would not feel confident in raising a matter regarding their health and wellbeing
  • Members were most likely to raise concerns with their family members (89 per cent), colleagues (47 per cent) and/or their GP (40 per cent)

Additionally, when compared with health and wellbeing research undertaken in May 2020, the DDU found that 55 per cent of respondents often go to work when they don’t feel well, up from 47 per cent.  

However, the number of respondents who believe they are making a positive difference to the lives of their patients increased from 72 per cent in May 2020 to 93 per cent in March 2021.

Moreover, 80 per cent believed that they felt supported by their colleagues while 67 per cent believed that relationships amongst colleagues were positive. 55 per cent also felt that they were able to spend suitable time with patients. The same number also stated that they had a good work/life balance.  

Lesley Taylor, dento-legal adviser at the DDU said:

“While dental professionals have always faced high-pressure situations, the long term implications of working during the COVID pandemic mean that many dental professionals have felt increasingly stressed and anxious.     

“Such feelings may have been compounded by keeping up-to-date with ever-changing guidance, adapting to new working practices and manging socially-distanced patient interactions.

“While reaching out for support and advice can be daunting and difficult, dental professionals shouldn’t have to ‘just deal with it’. At the DDU we recommend that dental professionals make the most of their support network to help them deal with stress, anxiety or depression.”

Click here to learn more about the sources of health and wellbeing support available to dentists.

DDU backs report calling for urgent need to reform healthcare regulators such as the GDC

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has welcomed the findings of a review into the way healthcare regulators such as the GDC have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Today’s publication of the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care’s (PSA) Learning from Covid-19 review found a number of reforms have taken place at the regulators because of the pandemic. These include a greater use of technology to enable remote participation in fitness to practise proceedings. However the PSA concludes that the crisis has reinforced the urgent need for regulatory reform, to make healthcare professional regulation more agile.

John Makin, head of the DDU, said:

“Dental professionals have waited a long time to see the GDC reformed. We agree with the PSA that the pandemic has highlighted the need for that reform to be delivered at pace. This cannot be delayed any longer. While the GDC has adapted fitness to practise and other processes during the pandemic, it is constrained by outdated legislation.

“The government is now consulting on detailed proposals to reform the healthcare regulators however, the GDC is not included in the first priority group for reform. The GDC must not be put to the back of the line. Dental professionals deserve a fitness to practice process that is as fair, robust and swift as possible.

“Today’s report from the PSA notes that organisations like the DDU have been concerned about the prolonged process of reform. We strongly urge the government to commit to introduce the necessary legislation to reform the GDC without further delay.”

Coronavirus pandemic leads to increase in queries to DDU’s employment advice line

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a significant number of dentists contacting the Dental Defence Union’s (DDU) free employment law advice line for support and advice on issues including staff grievances, personal conduct and sick leave.

From the first national lockdown in March 2020 until February 2021, the advice line, which the DDU has run in collaboration with global HR and employment law consultancy Peninsula since 2008, received 1,045 enquiries (both calls and emails) from DDU members. The top five reasons for dental professionals requesting advice were:

  • Terms and conditions of contracts – 173 enquiries (17 per cent)
  • Redundancy – 169 enquiries (16 per cent)
  • Conduct – 137 enquiries (13 per cent)
  • Absence – 125 enquiries (12 per cent)  
  • Other enquiries on issues including furlough – 122 enquiries (12 per cent)

Resigning from practice was another reason why DDU members contacted the employment law advice line. Such enquiries rose from 27 in 2019/20 to 49 in 2020/21.

John Makin, head of the DDU, said: “The pandemic has been a challenging time for dental professionals as they deal with increased anxiety levels and extraordinarily difficult circumstances. At the DDU, we support our members and are by their side throughout their career. The employment law advice line means that members have 24-hour access to a resource which can address all their questions and concerns.”

Nicola Morgan, head of marketing at the DDU, explained: “Dentists are becoming increasingly aware of employment law and want to make sure they follow good practice and comply with the law and regulations, such as those laid down by the GDC. It is reassuring to know that our members can access expert advice on employment issues that might affect the running of their practice during these challenging times.”

Kate Palmer, HR Advice Director and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, said: “Employment law and HR can be daunting and dentists are naturally keen to minimise the risk of getting embroiled in an employment tribunal. By collaborating with the DDU, we are delighted to be able to help members, through our expert advice, understand how to apply the laws and regulations in their organisations and to ensure any issues are dealt with timely and appropriately.”

DDU members have access to the free 24-hour employment law advice line as part of the DDU’s GROUPCARE program. More information on how to set up and access the GROUPCARE scheme can be found at: https://www.theddu.com/groupcare

DDU welcomes proposals to reform GDC fitness to practise process

The DDU welcomes the publication of long-awaited government proposals to streamline the way healthcare professionals are regulated. Reacting to the publication today of the government consultation on Regulating professionals, protecting the public John Makin, head of the DDU, said:

“For many years the DDU has been calling for the GDC to be given the powers necessary for it to be a more agile and efficient regulator. Many of the proposed reforms are centred around changes to the fitness to practise procedure. Being investigated by the regulator is stressful for dental professionals, so any reforms that can deliver a fairer and swifter process have the potential to be positive.

“While the GDC is not included in the first priority group for regulatory reform, we nevertheless note the government’s continued stance that it favours a reduction in the number of healthcare regulators. An independent review has been set up to examine this. The DDU is clear: we strongly believe that the GDC should remain the dedicated regulator of dental professionals. We will be making this point throughout these consultation exercises.

“These are complex issues, so we will be considering the fine print carefully and responding to the consultation on behalf of members.”

Top five reasons for dental complaints during the coronavirus pandemic revealed by the DDU

As the one year anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown approaches, the Dental Defence Union (DDU) has analysed the top five reasons for patients to raise complaints about pandemic dental practice. 

The DDU supported dental practitioners with over 500 advisory and complaint cases between the start of lockdown in March to the end of 2020. In the majority of cases, members wanted advice on an aspect of patient care in order to pre-empt problems. Just 9% of cases were about complaints, and of these treatment availability was the most common reason for a patient to be dissatisfied.

However, the DDU says it anticipates that complaint numbers are likely to increase because of delays in treatment caused by the pandemic. John Makin, head of the DDU said:

“Most patients have been understanding about the unavoidable compromises in dental provision during the pandemic but practices still had to respond to a significant number of complaints. Unfortunately, the possibility of complaints and claims is likely to increase as patients experience the detrimental consequences of treatment delays or become frustrated by the continued restrictions on routine dental practice. This risk can best be mitigated with pro-active and consistent communication which will help to manage patient expectations.”

The DDU examined the cases to identify the most significant themes and to help dental professionals understand where difficulties can arise. Findings included:

  • 92% of files concerned general dental practice. The remainder were specialist dental practice, community and hospital dentistry.
  • Dentists featured in 72% of the files with dental therapists and hygienists and specialists making up 18% and 5% respectively. 

The top five reasons for complaints were:

  1. Treatment availability – delays caused by the closing of practices and the limitations on patient numbers after practices reopened.
  2. Dissatisfaction with treatment – allegations of poor treatment outcomes and delayed diagnosis due to the pandemic.
  3. Fees and refund requests – patients requesting a refund or compensation for treatment delays or incomplete treatment.
  4. Communication issues – patients who felt they had not been properly informed about delays, cancellations and arrangements for urgent care during lockdown.
  5. COVID-secure measures – issues such as infection control, PPE and the use of face masks.

John Makin, continued: “When responding to patient complaints due to the pandemic, it is important to highlight the circumstances prevailing at the time of treatment. We advise dental professionals to refer to the relevant guidance, regulations and standard operating procedures that impacted upon the care provided. Context is vital.

“The DDU is continuing to support members working under the current difficult circumstances with reassurance, support and advice.”

Learn more about complaints handling in the DDU’s free, online learning module worth two hour of verifiable CPD.