John Chope column

John Chope considers the next stumbling and uncertain steps towards a reformed GDC.

 

Jittery GDC plays it safe

 

Last year it was Scotland so this time it was the turn of Wales to host the September Council meeting. The GDC is now approaching the autumn of its five-year term and this gusty session in the make-shift Council Chamber at the St David’s Hotel reflected the autumnal squalls whipping across Cardiff Bay.

There was a restless end-of-term feeling but no end-of-term was in sight. This is because the Council formally approved the draft rules to extend its current term for up to a further year beyond April 2008 – an expedient intended to assist the first steps of the reform process and to last until the legislation for the new smaller all-appointed Council is enacted. However, because the legislative details have not yet been published by government, the Council was understandably jittery about committing itself in this uncertain climate.

But the news that really stirred up Council members was the proposed composition of the selection panel for the new Council which should take office sometime in 2008. The task of making these appointments has been assumed by the Appointments Commission and the planned panel will comprise five members:

• A Commissioner who is a government appointed employee of the Appointments Commission
• An independent assessor selected by the Appointments Commission
• A representative of the Department of Health which is described by the Appointments Commission as the ‘sponsoring body’
• A representative of the devolved administrations
• And the president or other member of the GDC who is not seeking appointment to the new Council.

Council members felt that such a group could hardly be described as independent and they were horrified to realise that not only are the majority of these panellists appointed by or connected with the government, only one of the number, the GDC president, is identified as a dental professional.

And what irritated members even more was the news that the Appointments Panel didn’t even have the last word. They would be required to submit a shortlist to the Appointments Commission for the final selection.

Members could not understand how the Department of Health qualified as the sponsoring organisation, as the instructions to the Appointments Commission came from the GDC and all the funds came from its registrants.

The optimists on the Council suggested that the Appointments Commission may agree to revise their plans. However, most GDC members were clearly very unhappy with the news and there were grim mumblings that a trusting and naïve Council had been lured into a well laid trap and now that the GDC was gripped by a Gollum-like grasp the government was unlikely to let go.

It seems the Council has good reason to be jittery and if this pessimistic, perhaps even paranoid, view turns out to be justified and the legislative measures for the new Council turn out to be unacceptable, the GDC could and should have the confidence to stand up for something better.

Like a fretful Welsh mist, this climate of suspicious uncertainty swirled round the corridors of the GDC for several days following the Council meeting. And as if to remind the Department of Health that the end-of-term has not yet arrived, the GDC, after a week of worrying, decided to play it safe and put on hold its plans to avoid the next Council elections until the government’s intentions are actually revealed.

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