Eight is a lucky number in China. The last Olympic Games started on 08.08.08 in Beijing. But will it be a lucky number in Wimpole Street?

The Department of Health is ‘recommending’ that the size of the General Dental Council (GDC) should be reduced to eight, on the grounds that ‘this would be the most cost effective number of members to have’. It is also ‘recommending’ that the GDC chair should be appointed, rather than elected in future.

Next year, there will be a consultation with a view to amendments to the GDC‘s constitution being in place by mid-2012. On the assumption that consultations always come up with the intended answer, a new appointed chair and Council will be in place by October 2013.

It’s all a long way from the days when we could claim to be a self-governing profession with the majority of a 50-strong GDC being elected by dentists or appointed by the universities. Will a smaller body be more effective, if less democratic?

The last meeting of the Council considered measures to deal with criticisms levelled at it by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE). This body has criticised the GDC for the delay in dealing with conduct cases, leading to a large backlog. The GDC’s solution? To appoint case assessors, who can deal with complaints that they feel do not need to go through the full disciplinary process.

Although this proposal went through, two others ran into problems. Ethical Advertising Guidance was approved after some amendment. However the controversial ban on the use of the courtesy toitle ‘doctor’ has still not been resolved. Further work on this will be undertaken under the supervision of the Policy Advisory Committee (PAC).

A paper on Scope of Practice, which could lead to patients having direct access to DCPs, though was torn to pieces and will also be referred to the Policy Advisory Committee.

So what is this latter committee which seems to be taking over many of the functions of the Council? Formed earlier this year and consisting of some ten members its role is to ‘assist’ the Council to formulate policy.

It looks to me very like a mini-GDC, ‘better able to focus on core governance issues’. And those are the precise words used by the government in its proposal for an eight-member GDC. Perhaps the last GDC meeting allowed us to see the future, but does it work?