Two in five dentists fear GDC investigations amidst COVID-19 pandemic

An increasing number of dentists say they fear a regulatory investigation from the GDCAn increasing number of dentists say they fear a regulatory investigation from the GDC following dental decisions made during the coronavirus pandemic.

Two fifths (40%) reported this as having the biggest impact on their mental wellbeing.

This is according to a new survey carried out by Dental Protection, marking a 33% jump from when participants answered the same question in May.

As a result, it has sparked calls for the GDC and the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to take action.

Investigation fears

Dental Protection is urging the GDC to issue guidance encouraging staff to consider the COVID-19 context when handling complaints.

In addition, it calls on the PSA to give thought to more detailed guidance on whether or not an investigation will be undertaken.

The report comes as the BDA estimates a backlog of 19 million dental appointments as a result of the pandemic.

Raj Rattan is the dental director at Dental Protection. He believes the recent findings are a cause for concern.

‘Dental professionals tell us there are a range of issues impacting on their mental wellbeing; from concern for the health of family, friends and colleagues, through to loss of income,’ he said.

‘But we are particularly concerned to see that fear of regulatory investigation due to COVID-19 disruption has increased since we surveyed our members back in May.

‘Dentists remain focused on looking after their patients and providing high quality care. Concerns about the prospect of unfair action against them for decisions taken in circumstances beyond their control is an unnecessary distraction. It only exacerbates the stress that many are experiencing at this time.’

Reassurance needed

‘We feel the GDC could do more to reassure dentists and reduce the stress this is causing,’ Raj continues. ‘In September, the GMC issued specific guidance for its staff. It detailed how to take the context created by COVID-19 into account when considering complaints about doctors.

‘While we have some concerns as to whether this guidance will stand the test of time, it was a welcome gesture and offered much needed reassurance to doctors. The GDC could consider something similar and we will continue to engage with them on this.’

He added: ‘The prospect of a regulatory investigation down the line is clearly taking its toll on dentists’ mental wellbeing. We hope that both the GDC and the PSA will consider what more can be done to reassure dentists.’

The recent survey, which was carried out in October, looked at information supplied by almost 500 UK dentists.

GDC response

John Cullinane, GDC executive director, fitness to practise transition, spoke out in response.

‘In March of this year we, along with the other professional health and care regulators, made a commitment that environmental and human factors relating to COVID-19 would be taken into account in fitness to practise investigations and we stand by that commitment as we have throughout,’ he said.

‘We continue to make this clear in all our discussions with stakeholders. It is disappointing that any of them would imply there is cause for concern.

‘This has been, and continues to be a challenging time, and we all have a shared interest in providing reassurance that professional judgements will always be looked at in the context in which they were made.

‘As long as professionals assess risk appropriately – and make professional judgements accordingly – there should be no reason for concern. Our fitness to practise decision makers are aware of our commitment. We continue to review our guidance to them to ensure they have a lasting point of reference.’

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