One of the first lessons as a young graduate I was given was to be told in no uncertain terms that the General Dental Council (GDC) was here to protect the patients, and nothing else. I remember wondering what exactly it was they were protecting them from, but did not dare ask the question lest I be noticed as an outlier (the NHS contract is getting to me as well). This was swiftly followed by a 'scary' visit to the GDC premises to watch a conduct case, and put the fear of the devil in everyone’s heart.
If I thought it was bad then, it is worse now. I believe our profession is facing the biggest crisis we have seen for a number of years, and yes, I include the NHS contract reform in that too. For ultimately, as a result of years of poor leadership, management and structure, the GDC has managed to slowly isolate the very profession it claims to regulate.
If we examine the problem further, the disconnect lies here. The GDC sets up a complaints service, which we are actively encouraged to advertise. This, not surprisingly leads to an increase in conduct cases, most of which could have been resolved locally, and some which are completely frivolous. The net effect is that the professional in question is placed under enormous, not to mention unnecessary, strain. After all that, we are now informed that we need to additionally fund this privilege of conduct cases against us. It is no wonder that the more recent graduates are absolutely paralysed with fear when it comes to practising dentistry, which ultimately is not beneficial to the profession or the patient the GDC professes to protect.
The BDA has sent a robust response to the increase in annual retention fee (ARF), but will it truly affect any change. Whilst my heart sincerely hopes it does, my head tells me to think back to 2006. As a profession, we have reached a cross road. We can either accept it, in which case we have no right to complain about anything going forward, or we can fight this all the way.
The GDC is a failing organisation, a fact that has been independently verified by the recent report from the Professional Standards Authority. It would be irresponsible and folly to pump more money into a system that has clearly failed.
There has been a number of suggestions that have come, and all have merit to various extents. The following are a selection of what I believe is workable:
- As a profession, we should take charge of our independent regulatory body, and create a balanced system that is fair to all dentists and dental care proffessionals, and one that will ensure that patients will continue to be protected. However, at the same time, frivolous or unnecessary complainants should have to pay for the service and the time wasted
- The GDC has published its costs in its consultation document. It alleges that it costs £78,000 for a four day hearing. I demand an independent investigation into that, and sensible cost cutting measures to be implemented to reduce this
- A standardised cost should be applicable to every complaint that is received. If the complaint is proved to be a serious misconduct case, the complainant would be refunded their cost. This should ensure that all cases received are relevant and appropriate.
These ultimately are only suggestions, and I suspect a part of the wider debate that we need to have. I would be interested to know if the GDC would expect to reduce the ARF if the number of complainants dropped? I don't think so.
A failure on our part to act now, could potentially see our profession erode away, leaving nothing more than dust. We can then look back and say: 'If only…'
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