Outrage at decision to uphold ARF hike
A judge’s decision to allow the GDC to implement the bitterly opposed ARF increase despite ruling that the regulator had acted unlawfully in its consultation process, has been met with widespread anger and frustration across the dental profession.
In an unprecedented step, the BDA had sought judicial review of the GDC’s decision to increase payments by 55 per cent to £890 per annum, claiming the huge hike in fees to be unlawful and unjustifiable.
In response, Mr Justice Cranston found that there had been a procedural error in the ARF consultation process and highlighted a number of other significant failings by the GDC. However, he declared that the fee increase should stand.
Within minutes of the ruling being announced, the GDC welcomed the decision and moved swiftly to remind dentists that the new fee had to be paid by 31 December, adding: “Failure to pay by this date will result in registration being withdrawn.”
News of the decision and the statements issued by the GDC provoked an immediate and furious reaction from the BDA and dentists across Scotland, who launched scathing attacks on the under-pressure regulator.
Mick Armstrong, chair of the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee, said: “We regret that it came to this, but there was so much more at stake than just fees. We’ve seen patients and practitioners left in limbo for over 18 months when complaints are raised, and hearings with an average price tag of £78,000. We had to take action because health professionals should not have to subsidise failure at their regulator.
“Today a judge singled out a ‘gaping hole’ in the GDC’s arguments. The regulator demonstrated it wasn’t clear on its own powers and claimed it was facing ‘administrative chaos’. And that utter confusion has allowed it to escape the full weight of the law.
“This super-sized fee rise still stands, and now serves as a monument to the failures of health regulation. This case has revealed that a regulator, unaccountable to government, can be found to have acted unlawfully but still walk away with its ill-gotten gains. We are now looking to the government to act.
“The chaos at the GDC serves as a warning to all healthcare professionals. The Prime Minister once called for action on the ‘outdated and inflexible’ laws applied by our regulators. It’s time for the government to honour that pledge, in full.”
The BDA has now written to the Department of Health to outline the worrying implications of this case.
One incensed senior Edinburgh-based practitioner, said: “If ever there was a case for the GDC to be disbanded, this is it. It’s been clear from the very start, they ignored the profession all through the consultation. It’s shocking.”
In its full statement, the GDC said: “The GDC recognises that Mr Justice Cranston found that there was a procedural error in the ARF level consultation.
“However, we are pleased that he also recognised that the GDC has to be properly funded in order to carry out its duties to protect the public and that the error was not serious enough to require him to quash the consultation and the new fee.
“Throughout this process, the GDC has tried to be as transparent as possible and this was noted by Mr Justice Cranston in his judgment when he stated, ‘However, and to its credit, a constant theme of the GDC’s public announcements has been a commitment to a transparent consultation.’
“We acknowledge the court’s view that we could have provided more information to explain our projections for Fitness to Practise hearings. It is for this reason that the consultation was deemed unlawful.
“We welcome the fact that the judge decided to confirm the fee regulations for 2014 which means that the ARF of £890 remains valid. We would remind dentists that the deadline for payment of the 2015 ARF is 31 December.”