GDC reforms – the proof of the pudding

GDC reforms – the proof of the pudding

John Makin, head of the Dental Defence Union (DDU) on whether 2023 will be the year that regulatory processes become fit for purpose.

With the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and the delays impacting the NHS, there is not a lot of good news around at the moment. Which is why it’s nice to be able to report some positive developments from the GDC.

A blog recently published by John Cullinane, the director of fitness to practise, summarises the much needed improvements being made to fitness to practise (FTP) processes.

Improvements include a strengthened caseworker team, new guidance on preliminary meetings meaning issues can be narrowed and resolved ahead of a full hearing and improvements to the tone used in communications with participants in investigations.

Mr Cullinane comments: ‘We know that we haven’t always got it right. We’re constantly looking for and implementing improvements to the process, and while each change may be small, cumulatively and iteratively they will make people’s experience better.’

Little progress

These are welcome developments, not least because of the damaging delays in the system currently. I previously highlighted that we have members who have been suspended or obliged to work under restrictive conditions for more than a year while little progress has been made in their case.

The DDU’s experience of supporting members is echoed in damning findings of GDC commissioned research into its FTP procedures.  The research relates to the experiences of 70 individuals involved in investigations between 2015-21.

It found the process ‘takes too long, can be viewed as disproportionate, and is poorly understood by those who participate in it.’

While the research concludes that the outcomes of cases were seen as largely fair and effective, the report concludes that there were often ‘significant negative impacts’ on participants mental health and wellbeing which could have ‘unintended consequences for professional behaviour and practice’.

Toxic culture of fear

What we need now is for the GDC to take concerted action to restore registrants’ faith in the processes. This will help to relieve the stress on dental professionals undergoing GDC investigations and hopefully dilute the existing toxic culture of fear.

We also need the government to urgently introduce the legislation needed so that the GDC can overhaul and modernise its FTP processes completely.

Could 2023 be the year the GDC finally gets to grips with FTP processes and makes the changes necessary to deliver the kind of proportionate, efficient and compassionate regulatory regime that dental professionals deserve?

At the DDU, we certainly hope so, although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We continue to work with the GDC to discuss these and other improvements.

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