News analysis: Changing face of dentistry

The General Dental Council (GDC) has been ‘scanning the horizon' [1] to see the changing face of dentistry and the implications of this on its role.

It was assisted in doing this by many of the ‘great and good’ in the profession. The report listed many issues that will impact on the GDC’s future work.

The Council first looked at its relationship to other regulators and organisations. It will need to work more closely with the Care Quality Commission and other UK regulators to be proactive in the management of risk across the dental sector as a whole in order to protect patients.

The GDC will also need to develop better links with NHS England in order ‘to ensure that fitness to practise complaints are referred to the GDC appropriately’. It is expected that in 2014 there will be a review of all professional regulation and the GDC will need to engage with the Law Commission and the Department of Health for this.

The Horizon Scanning exercise looked at the changing nature of dental provision in the UK. In particular the possible growth in the number of dentists working for corporate groups which now account for nearly 17% practices. It is estimated that corporate dentistry grew by 85% between 2003 and 2010. Concerns were raised about the possible impact of this trend on the standards of care within dentistry but the GDC feels that it ‘does not pose any immediate regulatory challenges’.

Restrictions on Direct Access to dental care professionals (DCPs) has now been lifted. The GDC will continue to monitor any changes to dental provision as a result of this. The GDC will also need to address the expectation from government that the skill mix within the dental team will change to allow DCPs to undertake the more routine work of dentists.

The Horizon Scanning exercise found that patient expectations about dentistry ought to be key drivers of the GDC’s approach to regulation, particularly in relation to cosmetic dentistry. As social media becomes more commonly used by patients, the GDC will consider how best to use this technology to meet the growing demand for more information about dentistry.

The GDC finally looked at the possible impact of changes in EU rules and legislation on dental services. The Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive – which sets out how the GDC must treat applicants from the EEA – is currently being revised. This is likely to improve the process of becoming registered in another member state, allowing the GDC greater powers in checking for language competence, as well as expanding the requirements for authorities across the EU to notify each other about fitness to practise matters relating to registered dentists.

The GDC will also implement changes to indemnity requirements for Dentists in 2014 as a result of the EU Patient Rights Directive, which provides patients with the right to receive publicly funded healthcare (including dentistry) anywhere in the European Union.

1. Looking Ahead: Changes to dental provision in the UK and the implications for the General Dental Council, A Policy Horizon Scanning Report, available on the GDC website

By news correspondent Michael Watson

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