GDC consultation: plans over the next three years

In his first dental media appearance, we speak to Lord Toby Harris about the latest GDC consultation focusing on its strategic plan for the next three years.

Please can you give us a bit of background, what is this consultation and why do you want the input of dentists?

Every three years we produce a strategic plan.

That is what we’re consulting on at the moment, it’s looking three years ahead.

It’s trying to balance all the things that we ought to be doing over that period.

This will feed into an annual plan, which will come out later in the year. The annual plan directly relates to what we’re going to do in the immediate term.

But this GDC consultation is to give dental professionals an opportunity to comment on our general direction, where we’re going, what we’re trying to do.

And the point about this is that having an effective regulator is very much in the interests of all the dental professionals. Professionals will want the public to have confidence in them.

They will want people to feel that when they visit a dental practice, whomever they see, whichever profession, has been properly regulated, is properly trained.

That’s why good regulation is important and we want to make sure that we’re regulating in a way that the profession not only understands, but has the opportunity to feed into the emphasis that we will be placing on our work over the next three years.

You’re suggesting new standards for dental professionals based on principles of professionalism. What are these?

Later this year we’re planning to consult separately from the strategic plan on some of the issues about scope of practice and what should or should not be included, and about how you look at professionalism.

What we probably ought to do, and this is a long-term objective, is a move towards a situation where we recognise that the professions are called professions for a reason.

They’ve been through a process to have the professional qualification.

Therefore, they should have the opportunity of exercising their professional judgement.

The key question is, are they delivering the services that they’re supposed to in a way that benefits the patient and the public?

Now that’s a very different way of working, and it’s not something that could be introduced overnight.

But it’s something that we want to look at and to explore with the professions how that might work, what it would look like, and whether that’s something they would like to see happen.

You’re planning to make international registration ‘more effective’. What does that mean?

At the moment we’re quite hidebound by the minutiae of the legislative framework.

The government is actually going to loosen some of these to make it possible for us to make changes.

But the basic principle is, we need to be satisfied that an individual from overseas who’s applying to be a registrant meets the standards that we would expect from a registrant in this country.

Hence we have the Overseas Registration Exam.

It is in two parts including the written part and then the practical part.

We’d like more flexibility as to how all of that’s done.

The government is also looking at powers that would enable us under certain circumstances to recognise certain overseas qualifications.

But we’ve got to decide how we make that judgement. And this again we would want to talk to the professionals about.

Because a professional qualification in dentistry from one country or from one overseas institution may be very different from that in another country.

The GDC is planning to assess how effective and efficient it is. Do you think it’s a good idea to assess this yourself and not have outside input?

I think it’s a statement that any organisation ought to say about itself, that we will continue to make sure that we’re operating efficiently and effectively.

We are looking at that all the time, but don’t forget, we are very accountable. We are a body accountable to Parliament.

We’ve got the PSA who oversees the work that we do like it does with all the other regulators.

The PSA hold us to account, and they produce a report every year into what we’re doing.

But we have to account for the public resources that are used, this is essentially the registrants fees.We have to make sure that we’re using that resource effectively, efficiently and appropriately.

That’s something we will always do.

You’re planning on raising the ARF. What are you increasing it to?

We’re not quoting figures yet.

That will only be decided when we do the plan for next year. So this is the strategic plan which then feeds into that.

But equally there’s no point in consulting about a strategic plan unless we’ve given some indication of where we are.

The general approach that we’re taking is that we wouldn’t want to see the registration fees rising in real terms. They’ve been held in cash terms for several years. 

It’s very unlikely that that could be done in the future given current rates of inflation. The commitment we’re talking about is that we’ll try and make sure that any increase is below the inflation rate.

But that’s still speculative.

We’re going to do a lot of work on trying to hold down costs and maintain that position.

What we’re not going to do, particularly while inflation is at its current rate and potentially quite volatile is, decide this year what the fee is going to be for each of the next three years. 

The only way we could do that is by putting the fee up by a really large amount so that we can cover everything that might happen in the next two or three years.

And that is a recipe potentially for disaster.

The intention is to recognise, unfortunately, the fee may well have to rise in each of the years, but that we are making a general commitment that this will not increase by more than the general level of inflation.

And throughout that time we will continue to bear down on our own internal costs.

What is the GDC doing to help make the ARF increase affordable for dentists and professionals?

Well, it’s really a question again that’s not for us.

We have a particular statutory responsibility to meet. We start from the basis that we need to be able to do enough to protect the interests of public and patients.

And then we’re going to try and do that in the most cost effective and efficient factor.

Dentists – all the professions – are facing huge burdens at the moment, we recognise that.

This is why we’re certainly not going to try to increase the fee by more than the absolute minimum necessary.

Will the GDC listen to the responses to this consultation?

Well, of course we’ll listen.

We’ll take note of what they say, we’ll consider it.

Ultimately, of course, we have to make our own judgement.

But I believe you make a better judgement if you listen to all the views, even if that may well mean that you have to disagree with some of them.

But at least you should listen and take those into account. 

To take part in the consultation, simply visit

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