The legal eagle – feeding back on GDC performance

gdc performanceJohn Makin takes a closer look at the GDC’s latest feedback and calls for further legislation change over dental regulation.

Every dental professional knows that feedback is an essential resource. Making an effort to find out what patients think shows you care. But most importantly, it enables you to reflect on strengths and weaknesses.

This is equally true for any organisation that provides a service. The views of stakeholders – positive and negative – should highlight areas that require attention. They help achieve consistently high-quality standards.

The DDU regularly conducts surveys of members to ensure that we are meeting our targets. That we’re taking into account factors such as the politeness and professionalism of our staff. As well as the time it takes to handle enquiries.

I’m pleased to say that 92% of respondents were satisfied with the service they received in our most recent survey.

GDC feedback

Of course, it’s always difficult to hear about dissatisfaction. This is the situation in which the GDC finds itself following its latest stakeholder perceptions research.

Researchers found that overall perceptions of the GDC were more negative (58%) than positive (21%). And they’ve worsened amongst the dental team since a similar survey in 2018.

While the GDC’s response to the pandemic drives some of this, there was particular dissatisfaction with the regulator’s fitness to practise (FTP) process.

Interviewees suggested areas for improvement. These include improving support for dental professionals during a case and more regular communications.

This is not a new problem and the GDC is certainly aware of the urgent need for improvement because of the stress the FTP process inevitably brings.

In response to the research, the GDC’s head of fitness to practise, John Cullinane candidly acknowledged the team had struggled to keep pace with their growing caseload towards the end of 2020 because of a lack of capacity and experience. He also explained warning signs that the FTP process was not managed effectively had been missed.

The GDC has set out a number of measures it is taking. These include making better use of data to understand the delays that can creep in at each stage of the FTP process. And developing performance indicators to identify future problems.

The regulator also plans to recruit more experienced caseworkers and improve communication with dental professionals about the process. Such as the separation between casework and adjudication activity.

Room for improvement

The GDC’s willingness to hold its hands up is heartening. We believe it is important to engage positively with the regulator. In the interest of DDU members and the wider profession.

At the same time, outdated legislation means the GDC does not currently have the flexibility to implement the sweeping changes required to make the FTP process faster and fairer. For example, giving case examiners more power to resolve cases at an earlier stage rather than prolong the agony for dental professionals under investigation.

Also the need to have a separate independent body to decide whether a registrant is fit to practice, akin to how the GMC operates with the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).

After consulting on detailed proposals on the regulation of healthcare professionals, the government is yet to commit to a timetable for reform of the GDC.

This is disappointing and leaves the regulator in limbo and dental professionals subject to outdated processes.

As we head towards a new year, we hope there will be movement in this area. In the interests of all dental professionals.

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