ARF hike raised at Westminster debate
Tory MP and registered dentist Sir Paul Beresford heaped more pressure on the GDC during an adjournment debate in Westminster criticising the performance of the regulator yesterday (9 December).
Sir Paul gave a 15-minute speech before the Parliamentary Under Secretary for State in the Department of Health, Dr Daniel Poulter – himself a qualified medical doctor – responded.
During his speech, Sir Paul quoted a paragraph from a lecture that Rick Haythornwaite, the then chariman of the Risk and Regulatory Advisory Council, gave to the GDC in 2009. It read: “When regulators get it right, the customer and the public enjoy the advantage of choice, feel the benefit of unseen protections. When they get it right, these people who serve the customer and public, whether they be company employees or they be professional service providers such as yourselves or whoever else, feel motivated, they feel empowered to perform, to innovate, to adapt.
“When they get it wrong though, the customer and the public feel the straitjacket of unnecessary regulation, the weight of disproportionate interventions and the frustration of curtailed civil liberties.”
Sir Paul said: “That last sentence should be printed in a large font, framed and placed on every wall in every room at the GDC.”
He continued by saying: “I am interested the GDC’s involvement in allowing – I use that word carefully – the Department of Health and the Minister to look at its finances, savings and its justification for the proposed increase in the annual retention fee. That interest extends to whether the legislation on health regulators, which has been drawn up for possible implementation after the election will, for the first time, allow direct Government and ministerial influence on the GDC and, in particular, its fees.
“I fail to be convinced that it has really looked sufficiently at its costs and procedures in seeking savings. It appears to me that, under attack, the GDC has started to become reclusive and adopted a bunker mentality. I understand that hearings and council meetings are increasingly held in private, which is all the more alarming when its chairman, in delivering the annual Malcolm Pendlebury lecture, appeared to be seeking to expand its areas of operational interest.”
In summing up, Sir Paul said: “Good professional dentistry and medicine is built on good relationships with patients and on trust and confidence between the professional and their patients. This has improved dramatically over the last few years. The GDC should have a role in that, but its image in the eyes of the profession and, I believe, as consequence of its procedures, patients – has reached an all-time low.
“Mr chairman, the dental profession’s trust in this regulator has gone. I suspect that the patients’ trust will follow in due course.”
In response, Mr Poulter said: “It is right that we should debate the GDC’s performance, particularly in the light of a less than complementary performance review by the Professional Standards Authority, and given the major rise in the fee that dentists will be expected to pay to their regulator.
“My honourable friend will be aware that the General Dental Council is an independent statutory body that is directly accountable to Parliament. However, as he rightly highlighted, I have no legal basis to intervene in matters such as the level of the fee, which are deemed to be part of the body’s operational running. However, in my role as minister, I have a keen interest in the performance of the professional regulators and have regular contact with them, including the GDC, on a whole range of issues.
“All professional regulators, including the GDC, are aware of the Government’s position, as set out in our 2011 Command Paper, Enabling Excellence: Autonomy and Accountability for Health and Social Care Staff, we do not expect registration fees to increase unless there is a clear and strong case that the increase is essential to ensure the exercise of statutory duties.
“While the General Dental Council has consulted its registrants on the proposed fee rise, I am aware of, and sympathetic to, a strong body of opinion among its registrants that they are yet to be presented with compelling evidence to justify such an unprecedented fee increase.”
To view the whole debate, visit the Parliament Live website by clicking here and skip to 11am.
The full transcript of the debate can also be found by clicking here.