New dimensions

My day begins as soon as I wake up, really. I am definitely a morning person and my brain engages as soon as my eyes open. I can be a bit noisy to live with. If I’m working in the Leicester practice then a simple quarter of an hour’s drive gets me there. I still have practices in Oxford and very occasionally need to be up at 6am to get in for an 8am start  (I told you I was a morning person!).

I did have some control of my life until I started as chair, and then it seemed as if an extra dimension needed to be accommodated. New meetings keep pinging their way into my Blackberry calendar like shooting stars. Former chair, Hew Mathewson, did warn me that there is no way that this is anything other than a full-time job.

I’m new to the world of BlackBerry and it is a fantastic time-management tool. But is it just me or are they set up to replace every ‘dealt with’ email with two more? It feels a bit like the Greek monster Hydra, every time a head’s cut off two more grow back. I’m sure I’ll look back at these words in a year’s time and laugh at my first weeks!

It’s a GDC day and the main item which will run from 10am is the Finance and HR committee. You can’t judge how long it will last by the thickness of the papers (the ‘thud factor’ as I’m told it is called) but we are unlikely to be finished much before 3pm. Before that, there will be a catch-up in the office, as I haven’t yet made it into Wimpole Street this week, and no doubt a pile of post and an early start from home before that. Afterwards, (the meeting’s offsite), I will go back to the office, but need to be away in time for a 7.45pm kick-off – Leicester Tigers are at home to Bath and that’s always a lively encounter!

I don’t really take a lunch break, not really – or not one that is solely devoted to food. Like most practitioners, the break is from clinical dentistry, but you spend the time returning calls, dealing with practice stuff or over-runs, and this habit has followed me to the GDC.

As chair of the Council of the GDC, I regard myself as a ‘first among equals’. The Council, in its totality, is a partnership between the chief executive, Alison White, and the chair.  Alison manages the staff and I coordinate the members’ input, as well as liaising with the staff and ensuring it puts the Council’s policies into operation. While there are issues I feel strongly about – the vital role of education, fitness to practise and revalidation – we also need to be more customer-focused, whether it is a patient, member of the public or registrant who contacts us.

Challenges ahead
Education is central to regulation as the standard of entry into the profession; we need to keep hold of our role in this area and to promote it throughout the dental team. Through my experience on the Investigating Committee, I know there is an opportunity for the Council to be more proactive in helping to guide registrants so that they communicate better with patients and so deal with problems before they escalate. I am keen that the whole Council sees things from the patient’s perspective.

We also have the challenge of revalidation. The work we do on this before it’s implemented – possibly in 2012 – is vital to ensure that dental professionals are able to meet the standards expected of them and continue to offer the best possible treatment and protection to patients.
It’s important to remember that the role of the Council and chair of the Council of the GDC has never been to represent dental professionals. Our role is to protect the public.

The restructuring of the Council in 2009 went a step further to ensuring that that’s the case. A fully appointed Council of 24 members (12 registrants – eight dentists, four DCPs – and 12 lay members) helps to ensure no-one comes thinking they’re here to represent dentists, dental technicians, dental nurses or any other dental care professional.

The Council is made up of multi-skilled and talented members who have brought with them a wide range of experiences; the position of Chair was open to all members and attracted registrant and lay applicants. The most important thing, as with any job, is to get the right person. Your readership is mainly GDPs and I know you have reflected their views about this in your editorials, so it’s nice to be welcomed. Equally, they will expect me to be ‘one of them’ – which I am – and to reflect this in my actions, which I can’t promise because I am here to protect the public, not represent GDPs. The ideal solution is one that benefits everyone. To quote one of our Council members, Tony Kilcoyne: ‘What’s good for patients is good for registrants.’ 

Change is coming
I think the biggest change registrants will face is the introduction of revalidation in the next few years. Patients need to have confidence that those providing their dental care are up to standard when they first join our registers and can show that they remain up to standard over the course of their professional lives.

While we are still working on a framework for revalidation, we know the four key areas will
be professionalism, clinical, communication, and leadership and management. We will be consulting on revalidation again in the coming year and I urge all registrants to take part and have their say.

Change is not always welcomed, however justified or necessary. Practitioners have many other calls on their time and skills as well as to provide clinical treatment. But I feel confident that those who currently manage their continuing professional development (CPD) well will not be overly challenged by its introduction. The profession has made a huge success of CPD and is to be commended for its ‘can do’ approach.

Patient protection to me means putting patients first. The GDC’s guidance standards for dental professionals is not a rule book – but it is a code of ethics and one that I believe should be part and parcel of every registrants working life.

The six key principles laid out in this guidance should underpin all the judgement calls made by dental professionals in all the dental surgeries and dental labs across the UK. Although registrants may not be able to reel them off pat, they should permeate their working lives.

Who inspires me? Well, inspirational sounds a bit gushing. I couldn’t manage without the staff and my 23 other Council members at the GDC; through the appointments procedure we have a wide range of very experienced business people and registrants, their abilities and generosity with their time is outstanding. My predecessors have all shaped the job I now hold and I have the portrait of the most recent one, Hew Mathewson, in my office – it is not only a very fine picture, it expresses very much the kind of leadership Hew gave and keeps me grounded.
Inspirational is an expression more suited to the dental profession, particularly when viewed en masse, say at a national conference or exhibition – their commitment and enthusiasm, right through the team, to providing excellent dental care is very apparent and compares very favourably with other service industries. I am a lifelong member of the BDA and will miss my involvement with it at a representative level (I have stood down from all positions since
my election), including the politics of it all. As far as the dental industry is concerned, I welcome the trend towards them being more patient-focused in their marketing.

Over the years I’ve listened and nodded in agreement when advised to have a five or ten-year goal, but I have not done anything about it. I love to be in the audience when life coaches are lecturing, but inertia settles in within 24 hours.

I do have a personal development plan, and it has only a single entry – to be president (now chair) of the GDC. I suspect I’ll have to update it now.

I’m currently reading the printed version of the Wilfred Fish Lecture, given by Rick Haythornthwaite, about risk in society generally, which gently nudges us into remembering that while regulation is – and can be – a useful tool, it is not a panacea for all ills. I recommend its reading to all. Especially to those involved in healthcare regulation.

To relax, I sleep.

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