GDC to extend changes to fitness to practise processes

GDC to extend changes to fitness to practise processes

The General Dental Council (GDC) has announced it will extend and broaden the scope of its pilot to ‘improve proportionality and timeliness’ of fitness to practise processes.

In September the GDC launched a pilot to test changes to fitness to practise procedures with the aim of effectively resolving issues faster. The changes included limiting the evidence collected to that which is specifically required for the investigation. The regulator hoped this would limit the time it takes to conclude low-level cases.

The pilot was due to end in April after six months, but will now be extended for a further six months until October 2024. It will also be applied to a broader range of cases, including any registrant who has had a concern raised about them more than 12 months ago and closed with no action before case examiner stage.

Positive early signs

The GDC said it has seen positive results from the initial six months of the pilot. Its caseworkers report that dental professionals have been responsive in providing relevant evidence which is allowing for significant reductions in the time it takes to conclude a case.

By the end of April, the pilot had opened 127 cases, of which only eight were referred to a case examiner and the remainder closed. The average time to complete the cases was 12 weeks, which the GDC said was a positive early sign. The regulator also said it was aiming to assess all cases within 30 weeks.

Theresa Thorp is executive director for regulation at the GDC. She said: ‘The early signs look positive from our fitness to practise pilot, so we are pleased to extend and expand its scope. We know that investigations can be complex and lengthy, which can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of those involved. 

‘We are committed to improving our processes within the current legislation and we hope that, by working with others, we can continue to see improvements in timeliness without affecting the quality of investigation outcomes.’

‘The pilot finally recognises the impact on the health and wellbeing of dental professionals’

The Dental Defence Union (DDU) has expressed support for the extended pilot scheme. DDU head John Makin said: ‘It is good to see that the GDC is at last responding to concerns about the duration and proportionality of its investigations. The extension of the pilot finally recognises the impact on the health and wellbeing of dental professionals and their families undergoing investigations.  

‘Of those pilot cases assessed to date, the very low percentage of cases where onward referral to case examiners was necessary shows that the majority of matters reported to the council do not amount to a fitness to practise concern.  

‘It remains a concern that so many registrants are unnecessarily exposed to enduring stress which is, of itself, tantamount to the imposition of a sanction. These improvements in the process are welcome, but do not alter our long-held view about unnecessary delays in the fitness to practise process. We also believe that the 30 week target the GDC has set for these cases to be assessed is far too long.’

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