Collaborative tone ‘welcomed’
GDC begins analysis of consultation responses to its three-year strategic plan ‘amidst great uncertainty in dentistry’
The General Dental Council (GDC) has begun analysing the responses to a consultation on its strategic plan for the next three years. The regulator was seeking views on its proposed strategy which “focuses on ways both to prevent patient harm and to be proportionate when handling the concerns it receives, progressing its ambition to shift the balance from enforcement to prevention”.
The strategy includes plans to embed new principles of professionalism, providing the dental team with what it described as “the space needed to make informed judgements relevant to the situations faced in practice”. The regulator said there were also ongoing plans to focus investigations on the most serious concerns, such as those that raise issues of public safety or confidence.
The GDC said the quality of the regulation it provides is closely linked to the quality of legislation it works under. This legislation has not been fundamentally updated for four decades and, said the GDC, its weaknesses are becoming increasingly apparent while the timetable for reform gets less and less certain.
Our priority is to continue focusing on ensuring dental professionals on our registers reach and maintain the highest standards
The regulator says it will continue to press government for the reform it needs to become more agile and efficient – and be ready to respond should it arrive in the next three years – but it will also continue to focus on its core functions, and make improvements wherever it can, should reform not materialise.
Stefan Czerniawski, the GDC’s Executive Director, said: “After the shock of the pandemic and in a rapidly changing environment, we have taken this opportunity to review our aims and objectives and to make sure that our strategic direction remains the right one for the next three years. Our priority is to continue focusing on ensuring dental professionals on our registers reach and maintain the highest standards, but to be ready to intervene where those standards are not met.”
This consultation, which closed on 6 September, was not only on the regulator’s plans but also on what those plans will cost to deliver. That will have an impact on the Annual Retention Fee, which the GDC expects will increase from the levels set in 2019 to around £730 (+7 per cent) for dentists and around £120 (+5 per cent) for dental care professionals.
Inflation is forecast to continue for some time and the regulator said it will do all it can to keep its own costs down, but that it “may need to revisit the fee in subsequent years if inflation remains high. The GDC commits to limiting any further increases to the rate of inflation unless other exceptional circumstances arise.”
Lord Toby Harris, the GDC’s Chair, said: “I believe the plans we set out in this consultation explain how we intend to manage the significant uncertainty we face in the coming years, while continuing to deliver on our core functions of protecting the public and maintaining confidence in the dental professions.
“Crucially though, these plans are not yet set in stone. [The] consultation provides the opportunity for anyone with an interest to tell us their views and help shape our strategy for the next three years.”
In its response, the British Dental Association said that the consultation had a “tone and approach that is positive and collaborative, which is of course to be welcomed, as are the strategic themes in general.
“We believe that many of the current approaches by the GDC are useful and welcome. This includes the wish to empower registrants to make clinical decisions without fear of inappropriate enforcement action and fighting the climate of fear and defensive dentistry.”
It also welcomed the proposals around professionalism, engagement with professions and stakeholders, improvement of procedures, communication with registrants, quality assurance of decision-making “and the genuine wish to leave behind what has been a dire situation for a significant period of time”.
The BDA said, however, that it was concerned about the GDC’s apparent intent to have a say in workforce planning. “Regulators do not, and should not, have any involvement or role in workforce planning; it is a role for government,” it said.
“If the regulator wishes to move into this area, then professional regulation must be funded from public taxation. No matter how this is dressed up as ‘working in partnership’, the direct involvement of the GDC in any workforce planning activities, is unacceptable.”
It added: “There continues to be a dissonance between the GDC’s obvious wish to work closely with the professions – which is welcome – and its apparent worry that ‘representation’ might unduly influence its working groups. Professional organisations have knowledge and expertise which others do not have and can contribute much to the early formation of policies and identify potential issues that might be elusive to others.”
The BDA also criticised what it described as a lack of transparency surrounding the costings of the GDC’s plans. “Throughout conversations with the GDC in 2018 and 2019, whenever cost was a theme, we were referred to the forthcoming strategy consultation that would bring clarity on this. There is little actual clarity as to how these figures for the five strategic aims have been decided upon, or on what exactly the money will be spent.
“There is an overlap of many of the ideas and projects mentioned and no evidence-base for the approach itself. For the purpose of the consultation, it would also have been useful to see clearly the income and expenditure over the last few years and how this has been streamlined and/or changed into the current set of strategic aims.
“Registration figures, income vs expenditure, operational costs, reserve levels and changes to budgets over time would have been useful. We note that there is a commitment to publish detailed plans, together with timescales for the various programmes of activity, on an annual basis; but there is no commitment to consultation on these. We find it a bit odd that the consultation questions do not include questions about the vision and values at the beginning of the consultation. They are clearly meant to be part of it.”
But it added: “We would like to say that we support the approach and the language used. As the GDC will be aware, we continue to have significant concerns about transparency – and accountability – but we welcome its inclusion in the values and look forward to significant improvements to the openness of decision-making, which is something we will obviously monitor extremely closely.”