John Makin on GDC case delays and the need for action

John Makin, head of the Dental Defence Union (DDU), discusses the PSA report on GDC case delays. John Makin, head of the DDU, discusses the PSA report on GDC case delays and the need for government action.

At the time of writing, we are awaiting the results of the Conservative party leadership contest. This will determine our new Prime Minister.

In its run up, there has been an understandable focus on the need for the new leader to get a grip on the cost of living crisis. However, there has been much less discussion of health policy.

This is disappointing at a time when NHS dentistry is struggling to cope with capacity problems and workforce shortages.

The DDU are urging the government to keep its promise on the long-awaited reform of the fitness to practise process.

This will help to avoid the delays we are seeing for dental professionals snarled up in protracted investigations by the General Dental Council (GDC) – something I recently highlighted in the Guardian.

GDC concerns

We have members, senior dentists, who have been suspended or obliged to work under restrictive conditions for more than a year. Meanwhile, little progress has been made in their case.

According to the GDC’s own 2021 Annual Report, the median time for initial hearings to start was 337 days (11 months and two days) from referral by case examiners. This is compared to 296 days (nine months and 22 days) in 2020.

In its recent review of GDC performance, the Professional Standards Authority’s (PSA) found that the regulator had met its standards in every area except one. This area was: ensuring cases are dealt with as quickly as is consistent with a fair resolution.

The PSA reported ‘we remain concerned about the time it takes the GDC to progress fitness to practise cases’ and ‘its overall timescale remains one of the highest of the regulators we oversee’.

Government reforms

The GDC currently does not have the power to implement meaningful reforms. This includes the increased use of consensual disposal to resolve cases at an earlier stage. It also means the introduction of a separate, independent body to decide whether a registrant is fit to practise.

Both we and the GDC are campaigning to be given these powers.

We had high hopes that a consultation on proposals to modernise healthcare professional regulators published in March 2021, would start to be rolled out and lead to much-needed change.

However, the government has now said that substantive reforms have been shelved until 2024/25 at the earliest.

This is worrying at a time when the profession needs a morale boost. This is to attract and retain as many dental professionals as possible.

We are ready to work with the GDC. We want to help it speed up its processes in the interests of dental professionals and their patients. Additionally, we will also be urging the government, under its new leader, to prioritise wholesale reform of fitness to practise.

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