GDC reveals number of dental professionals erased or suspended for ‘top-up’ fees

The GDC has pledged to review any ‘top-up’ fee cases that have been ‘put in doubt’ by the Williams case whereby a dental professional was suspended or erased. 

This comes after sent a Freedom of Information request to the GDC for the number of dental professionals who have been erased or suspended for charging ‘top-up’ fees to patients since 1 April 2006 – the date which marked the change in NHS regulations whereby ‘top-up’ fees were no longer prohibited.

The GDC revealed that there had been four cases in total involving charging ‘top-up’ fees. This means the GDC has potentially struck off four people for actions that are not specifically prohibited by NHS regulations.

However the GDC stressed that the issue of ‘top-up’ fees was not necessarily the sole charge in any of these cases.

The GDC said: ‘This is an ongoing piece of work, and it is important to note that whilst the cases identified from this search included charges relating to “top-up fees”, this did not form the totality of the charges in any of the cases identified.’

Possibility for independent review

After being pressed for this figure, the GDC spokesperson said: ‘The Court of Appeal judgement provided important clarity about the proper interpretation of the contract regulations and NHS England are considering the implications.

‘For our part, we have identified four cases where top-up fees were at issue and we are examining the decisions and outcomes of each case. If it appears that any of those cases are put in doubt by the Williams judgement we will commission an independent review.

‘NHS England also reaffirmed that the judgement does not alter the obligation on dentists to be clear with patients about the services available to them on the NHS. This remains consistent with our standards for dental professionals to obtain valid consent before starting treatment, explaining all the relevant options and the possible cost.’

Upon revealing this number, the GDC made clear that, while the cases identified include ‘top-up’ fee charges, this did not form the totality of the charges.

GDC versus Williams

The FOI request followed the High Court ruling that NHS regulations do not forbid ‘top-up’ fees after the GDC struck off a dentist.

Lucy Jane Williams, the dentist, was charged with professional misconduct allegations. This included charging ‘top-up’ private fees in addition to NHS charges.

The GDC’s Professional Conduct Committee argued that NHS regulations did not allow such mixing and, as a result, she was erased from the register.

However, after Williams appealed, the High Court confirmed that NHS regulations do not prohibit charging ‘top-up’ fees. Therefore, the judge found her erasure to be wrong and ‘procedurally unfair’.

The GDC versus Williams case sparked concern amongst the dental profession, with many questioning what this means for the NHS England and the GDC.

In addition, following the case, a poll was undertaken which suggested the dental profession has lost faith in the GDC.

What are your thoughts? Email [email protected].

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