How to raise concerns about a senior colleague

Almost nine in 10 young dentists believe their generation will receive more patient complaints

Lesley Taylor, dentolegal adviser at the Dental Defence Union (DDU), discusses how to address any concerns you may have about a senior colleague.

Raising concerns is not always an easy thing to do. Especially at the beginning of your career when it may be interpreted as a criticism of a senior colleague. You may have concerns as to how this would impact the rest of your career.

However, it is the right thing to do. All dental professionals have an ethical duty to put patients’ interests first.

When and how should I raise concerns?

In its Standards for the Dental Team (2013), the GDC states in standard 8.2 that dental professionals must ‘act promptly if patients or colleagues are at risk and take measures to protect them’.

For example, patients might be at risk due to the health, behaviour or professional performance of an employer or colleague. Another issue could be the clinical environment, such as infection control. Or, being asked to do something you believe conflicts with your duty to put patients’ interests first.

Standard 8.2.3 also states that: ‘Where possible, you should raise concerns first with your employer or manager. However, it may not always be appropriate or possible to raise concerns with them, particularly if they are the source of your concern.’

Finally, standard 8.1.1 explains that: ‘Your duty to raise concerns overrides any personal and professional loyalties or concerns you might have (for example, seeming disloyal or being treated differently by your colleagues or managers).’

Remember, it is a good idea to keep a written record of any concerns you may have. This should include dates, times, and the context behind each concern. Also, stick to the facts, and try not to be influenced by personal feelings.

Should I inform the GDC of my concerns?

Usually, you would be expected to raise concerns locally using the established procedure. If this is not possible, there are often other ways for you to raise your concerns. It is unusual to need to go straight to the GDC.

Can concerns be raised anonymously?

While it may be possible to request your name be kept confidential during any investigation, it’s not usually advisable to report concerns anonymously. This could hamper any investigation and might even mean the complaint is not taken seriously.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998 offers protection for those who honestly raise concerns about wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace.

What could happen if I don’t raise a concern?

All dental team members are expected to act if they believe care is inadequate or patients are at risk. The GDC advises that you should act on concerns as soon as possible. This allows poor practice to be identified and tackled before there is a risk to patient safety.

If a concern isn’t raised and something goes wrong, it could result in an investigation. If it transpired through the course of the investigation that people in the team could or should have known about the issue, then it could lead to questions being asked about them.

What should I do if I’m asked to do something that I’m uncomfortable with?

As a registered professional, you are accountable to the GDC for your actions and the treatment you carry out.

If you’re worried that you’re being asked to do something that is not in a patient’s best interest or that you are not trained and competent to do, it’s important to approach the person who has asked you to do this.

It may feel uncomfortable to question a senior colleague, but it’s far worse to deal with an adverse incident that leads to a complaint, claim or GDC investigation.

If the disagreement can’t be resolved, it might be advisable to seek a second opinion from a colleague or your dental defence organisation about what to do.

Who can give me advice about raising a concern?

Your dental defence organisation should be able to provide independent support and guidance on how to raise a concern. The organisation Protect can also provide free, confidential advice to individuals raising patient safety concerns.

Top tips for raising a concern

  • Raise your concerns locally at first, using the established practice procedure
  • Put your concerns in writing and request written confirmation of it
  • Keep a written record of your concerns and the steps you have taken to resolve them. Your employer should keep you informed of how they propose to deal with the matter and the timeframe for their response
  • Contact your dental defence organisation for individual advice if you think you may have to raise concerns.

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