GDC introduces further improvements to fitness to practise processes

03 March, 2023 / editorial

The General Dental Council (GDC) has introduced “some small but important changes” to its fitness to practise processes.

The regulator said the changes aim to “reduce the impacts on those subject to investigations, improve case progression, and make best use of limited resources in the absence of regulatory reform.”

In a statement, the GDC said: “It is now clear that full regulatory reform for the GDC is several years away following [the] announcement by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

“Fitness to practise can be a long and stressful experience for those involved. The latest improvements the GDC is making will reduce the impacts that long-standing or multiple investigations can have on those who are the subject to an investigation, and lead to improved performance.”

The following changes have been made:

  • The GDC will close cases that mirror an investigation being carried out by another authority, for example the NHS or Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) at the Registrar’s direction. Cases involving an ongoing police inquiry, interim order, or where there are other open fitness to practise investigations will not be closed.
  • It will not automatically open cases for matters referred from the NHS where the NHS is either investigating or managing the issues locally. Where there is a serious and immediate risk to public safety or confidence, the GDC will open an investigation (if, for example, the dental professional also practices privately) and, if appropriate, refer the matter to the Interim Orders Committee.
  • It is reviewing and closing some older cases, those where there is no realistic prospect of establishing that a dental professional’s fitness to practise is impaired, following review and approval of the Registrar. 

John Cullinane, Executive Director, Fitness to Practise, said: “We are looking to reduce uncertainty where we can for those who are subject to a fitness to practise investigation, because we know it can be a long and stressful position to be in.

“We are constrained by our legislation, but there are small changes we can make that together with other changes we’ve made will progress improvements in our performance and reduce the impact on those involved.”

The GDC saids that it will be tracking the impact of these changes, and other improvements it has been making, through an updated set of key performance indicators and timeliness measures that provide a more detailed picture of case progression at each stage of the fitness to practise process.

Dental Protection, the legal defence organisation said that it welcomed improvements by the GDC. Yvonne Shaw, Deputy Dental Director, said: “We have long made the argument that reform to professional regulation is needed and we welcome the announcement by the GDC about the reforms they plan to introduce.

“The extent to which these reforms can make a positive impact for dentists and dental care professionals depends on the detail of how they are implemented and we look forward to working with the GDC on this.

“There are other areas where the GDC could make further progress and we continue to urge the GDC to take these forward. These include improvements to the tone of communications, IOC sanctions, decision making and decision timelines in Fitness to Practise processes.

“We also continue to campaign for the government to publish a timescale for reforming the GDC’s out of date legislation. The Dentists Act 1984 is now nearly 40 years old and sets out in prescriptive detail some of the ways in which an investigation should proceed. We believe that significant progress could be made with legislative reform including by giving the GDC more discretion to close cases sooner.”

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