Can our regulators learn from the aviation industry?

After shutting Gatwick, Neel Kothari questions whether the GDC should be following the lead set by the aviation industry.

Let me start by expressing a view that may not be universally shared: well done to the staff at Gatwick airport who, just before Christmas, decisively acted to shut down a major airport when faced with a mysterious sighting of a drone.

This action affected at least 10,000 passengers on the day, caused endless chaos and led to the army being called in to support the local police.

Nevertheless, nobody died and this difficult decision shows us how seriously the aviation industry takes our safety.

Compare this with our own regulators and ask for a moment, would they have taken such a bold decision?


The GDC’s raison d’être is to protect patients and regulate the dental team, yet it holds virtually no information about the most important aspect of keeping patients safe – which are the human factors that determine success or failure.

In stark contrast, the aviation industry takes this aspect so seriously that there is even a sub speciality known as ‘aviation medicine’, which strives to treat or prevent conditions that airline crews are particularly susceptible to.

This acknowledgement is not through the kindness of good-hearted airline managers, but rather due to the bitter reality that poor airline safety measures leading to the loss of life would simply cripple a multi-billion-pound industry.

Unfortunately, dental regulators seem to be oblivious to the human factors that affect delivery of care, yet anecdotally, we are all aware of worsening conditions, especially for associates who are often forced to take on target-driven positions with ever decreasing UDA values and questionable working conditions.

Even the title ‘performer’ is hugely disrespectful for any working professional and, simply put, seeks to diminish a highly-skilled individual to the level of a circus monkey playing to the tune of their masters.

Patient safety

Let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves if this is likely to affect patient safety.

I’m not suggesting that the GDC or the CQC ought to take a heavy-handed approach to running a dental practice, but I am suggesting that some minimum standards are needed to protect front line staff from commercially driven business pressures.

How many more times will we see cases like that of Dr Desmond D’Mello (who regularly completed around 20,000 UDAs working part time), before we start to realise that this would never be accepted by other industries like the aviation industry, for whom caring about safety is simply not optional.

Read more from Neel Kothari:

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