John Chope column

John Chope considers the new advice to patients on how to complain to the General Dental Council.


That could be me!


The GDC has just published a new information resource in its pastel pallet range of A5 booklets. This time it is a soothing eco blue. But for some dental professionals, the message is hardly soothing. This is because the booklet, How to report a dental professional to us, is aimed at the general public – explaining what to do if you think someone is unfit to practise. It even contains a tear-out form to fill in to make it easier to report any concerns to the GDC.

If, like me, you immediately feel guilty at the sight of a policeman, this new leaflet will pump up your paranoia to pyrexial pitch. You will imagine every patient that walks through your surgery door to have studied and memorised the booklet, to be wired with a voice recorder and equipped with a full scenes-of-crime detection kit.

The booklet clearly explains how the fitness-to-practise procedures work and lists the sort of things that the GDC is obliged to investigate if it is to keep patients safe. These include sexual assault or abuse, drink or drugs problems, fraud, seriously poor treatment, inadequate patient’s consent, cross-infection failures and no professional indemnity.

The three fitness-to-practise stages at the GDC are described. The first stage is handled by a caseworker whose job is to decide whether a complaint involves misconduct, poor performance or health problems on the part of the registrant. The Council is also interested if there has been a criminal caution or conviction or another regulator elsewhere in the world has found the dental professional unfit to practise. Cases outside these categories are not usually considered.

The second stage involves the Investigating Committee which comprises professional and lay Council members. The committee meets twice a month and considers around 30 cases in a sitting. Its job is to look at the evidence including the comments of the registrant in order to decide whether a case needs further investigation, whether it warrants no further action or whether an advice or warning letter (which could be published) is required. The most serious cases are forwarded to the third stage which is either the Professional Conduct or Professional Performance or Health Committee of the GDC.

The members of these committees are appointed and trained completely independently from the GDC. They also include both professional and lay members and their job is to hear all the evidence, normally in a public sitting. If the case is both proved and serious enough, the sanctions available at this stage are striking from the register, suspension from the register for a set period, setting conditions for practice or delivering a reprimand.

So if you always remain fully composed when you see a policeman and you think you are invulnerable to criticism by your patients, the GDC’s latest booklet won’t bother you. But the rest of us will read it along with the desperately sad conduct cases in the GDC Gazette and sigh – but for a twist of fate and a lapse of judgement – that could be me!

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