Falling apart at the seams

The General Dental Council (GDC) is falling apart at the seams.

It has had a bad 18 months with three Presidents/Chairs, four Chief Executives and a completely new executive management team this year. It has also had two adverse end-of-year reports from its regulator the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE).

The latter commented in June that the difficulties that the GDC was experiencing had implications for its ability to maintain the confidence of the professions and the public in its role as an effective regulator. ‘We will want to see that progress is being made as quickly as possible,’ the report concluded.

Worst of all are delays in hearing cases and the inability to deal with the backlog that has built up over the years. The average (median) time from initial complaint to final fitness to practise hearing is nearly 18 months.

The use of this average means that there are as many cases taking longer than this as there are those being disposed of more quickly. The number of cases considered by the GDC last year was 845, with 106 going to a full hearing. This barely copes with new cases coming in let alone dealing with the backlog.

It is not just in the field of fitness to practise that the GDC is falling short. The same strictures apply in the report to registration, guidance and standards, as well as education and training. The Council has lost not only the confidence of the profession, but also of its own regulator, the CHRE. In fairness it has to be said that the latter feels that the GDC is beginning to get a grip, especially since the new chief executive, Evlynne Gilvarry, took office last autumn.

But the GDC is not regaining the trust of the profession, which it lost when it became an appointed and undemocratic body, with dentists very much in a minority. The GDC needs dentists to set standards for the profession, to oversee education both undergraduate and postgraduate. In the past dentists would look at complaints to see if they warranted a disciplinary hearing or were just seeking an apology and compensation.

It is time for the profession to be given back the ability to regulate itself and to take this away from lay people, both on the Council and the staff, who know nothing about how dental professionals work.

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