Experience of dental professionals under investigation prompts calls for urgent reform

31 May, 2023 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

Dental Protection has called for radical reform of how the General Dental Council (GDC) investigates dental professionals, as new research reveals significant numbers are experiencing suicidal thoughts or quitting dentistry as a result of their investigation.

In a Dental Protection survey of 125 dental professionals who have been investigated by the dental regulator in the last five years, 82 per cent said the investigation had a detrimental impact on their mental health and 96 per cent said it caused stress and anxiety. Investigations had prompted 14 per cent quit dentistry and a further 38 per cent considered leaving. Over a quarter (28 per cent) said they experienced suicidal thoughts during the investigation.

Dental Protection, which supports dental professionals with regulatory investigations, called on both the GDC and the UK Government to take urgent steps to reduce the number of dental professionals needlessly dragged through this process, and resolve cases more quickly.

Dr Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection, said: “Dental Protection supports dental professionals from the moment a GDC complaint is received, to its conclusion at a hearing. We see how a GDC investigation takes its toll on the mental health of those involved day in day out, yet these survey results are still shocking and make for difficult reading.

“One dental professional quitting dentistry, or worse, experiencing suicidal thoughts due to a GDC investigation is one too many and this should act as a wake-up call for both the GDC and the Government.

“Members told us the length of their GDC investigation had the most impact on their mental health. The Professional Standards Authority, in its 2021/2022 review of the regulator, said the GDC is taking too long to progress fitness to practise cases and that the number of open older cases has increased. It described the delays as ‘serious and ongoing’.

“GDC reform would give the regulator discretion to not take forward investigations where allegations clearly do not require action, to focus on the most serious allegations and process them more quickly, and the Government must progress this with more urgency. But the GDC can and should make more progress in the meantime – it must deliver on its 2021 commitment to tackle the delays to cases itself, through alternative ways of managing the caseload and increasing the size of its team.

“Having your fitness to practise called into question can be devastating, and there is no reason why the GDC cannot communicate with dentists with more compassion. For example, it should acknowledge the impact the investigation may have on mental wellbeing in its letters, and ensure its correspondence is accessible across all devices. It should also consider introducing an independent 24/7 wellbeing support service.

“Finally, we would urge the GDC to keep its promise to publish data on registrants who have died by suicide during a GDC investigation as soon as possible. This will demonstrate transparency and be the first real step in understanding the extent of this problem.”

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