Death knell for self regulation?

Last Friday’s announcement that the next chair of the General Dental Council (GDC) would not only be appointed rather than elected, but would also not be a dentist, took many by surprise.

The writing had been on the wall, however, since the GDC was reconstructed as an appointed body and without the obligation for its chair to be a dentist.

The GDC became an independent body, separate from the General Medical Council in 1956. Its first president was a distinguished academic dentist, Sir Wilfred Fish, as were many of his successors. They were all elected by the Council, most of whom were elected by dentists.

As such they were regarded as the head of the profession. Although dentists grumbled about the shortcomings of the GDC and having to pay a yearly retention fee, this was seen by most as a price worth paying to be a ‘self-regulated’ profession.

I am sure that the new chair, Bill Moyes, has many great qualities, but in no way can he be called head of the profession. He started his career as a civil servant, moved into the private sector, then returned to public service as chairman of Monitor, the independent regulator of NHS Foundation Trusts from 2004-2010, during which time Stafford Hospital gained Trust status.

Many dentists, who oppose direct access, may wonder if it is a coincidence that the new chair comes hot foot from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) which strongly pressed the GDC to adopt this measure. Perhaps we should re-read the OFT’s last report to see what may be in store for the profession under the new regime at the GDC.

From October, the GDC will be reduced to 12 appointed members. Six of these will be lay members, including Mr Moyes, and the remaining half will be split between dentists and dental care professionals (DCPs). Dentistry is no longer a ‘self-regulated’ profession. And yet dentists and DCPs still have to pay an annual retention fee for the privilege of practising.

'No taxation without representation' was a slogan coined by colonists in America and which was one of the major causes of the American War of Independence. This year’s Conference of Scottish LDCs adopted a motion to set up an independent GDC in Scotland. Perhaps we will see more calls from the profession for independence.

By news correspondent Michael Watson

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