More fitness to practise cases are closing early, says GDC

The dental profession has called on the GDC to provide 'robust assurances' after it admitted to acting unlawfully

We are seeing fewer concerns and closing more cases at the early stages of the fitness to practise (FtP) process, says a GDC director.

Clare Callan, associate director of fitness to practise at the GDC, said that the number of concerns received and initially assessed has reduced by more than half over the last decade.

In a new blog, she says the number of cases referred to the Dental Professionals Hearings Service for a hearing is even smaller against the backdrop of a growing profession.

In 2016, 333 cases were referred for a hearing, representing about three registrants in every 1,000 (0.3%) on the register that year

Seven years later in 2023, the GDC said it referred just 132 cases, or around one registrant in every 1,000 (0.11%). While the total number of cases being progressed to a hearing has remained quite static over more recent years (ranging between 132 to 176 cases over the last four years), the regulator says increases in the number of professionals on the register means the number of cases progressed to a hearing has reduced.

Ms Callan said: ‘The reality of fitness to practise is that the number of serious concerns raised has reduced significantly over recent years and we are progressing fewer cases to the later stages.

‘We have more to do to improve timeliness and the support provided to individuals, but the indications are that efforts across the sector to improve complaint handling and reduce the impact of investigations are having an effect and we are moving in the right direction.’

Last month, Theresa Thorp, executive director of regulation for the GDC, spoke at the latest Dental Leadership Network event in London. She said she does not want FtP to be ‘the elephant in the room’.

‘We have a lot more work to do. We are not there yet. But we have taken action in a number of areas…it is something we need to tackle together,’ she added.

Regulator perceptions

This comes as new GDC statistics show the majority of dental nurses hold positive views of the regulator – while most dentists view the regulator negatively.

This is according to a new GDC survey of almost 1,500 early career dental professionals (ECPs).

The findings show that the majority of respondents had either a neutral or negative perception of the regulator.

While over two in five (44%) reported a positive perception of the GDC, nearly one third (30%) reported a neutral perception, and just over a quarter (26%) reported a negative perception.

Responses also varied by sub-group. DCPs generally had a more positive perception of the GDC compared to dentists, and individuals registered with the GDC for a longer period of time were generally more negative in their perceptions.

For example, dental nurses had the highest positive perceptions, with 59% viewing the GDC favourably. However, dentists had the lowest positive perceptions at 22%.

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