The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Bill will require the General Dental Council, and other professional regulators, to make public protection its central aim.
George Freeman, a health minister, said: ‘That will ensure that public protection is at the heart of what the regulators do.
‘This measure is about not changing what the Professional Standards Authority, or the professional regulators, do in relation to professional regulation, but ensuring a coherent, strategic approach by them in the performance of their functions.
‘Patients and the public need to understand the role and purpose of the organisations that regulate our health professionals in order to have confidence in what the regulators do.
‘Having clear and consistent objectives is vital to that.’
The measure will require the General Dental Council to make public protection its overarching objective when dealing with fitness to practise issues that result in a final disposal of a case.
Earlier this year, in a scathing review, the Professional Standards Authority found the General Dental Council failed to meet eight standards of good regulation, six in its fitness to practise function and two in its ‘registration’ function.
On fitness to practise, the failures included delays in progressing cases, risk management, customer service, communication and the secure retention of information.
The regulator also censured the General Dental Council for failing to maintain accurate registers, with multiple mistakes due to human error, IT and the movement of data between systems.
A department of health spokeswoman said the bill would change the General Dental Council’s approach because, currently, public protection is a ‘general concern’ rather than specified as an objective.
But, asked whether the change flowed from the current concerns about the General Dental Council, she replied: ‘There’s no link between the two issues.
‘The clause was included in the bill as an opportunity to confirm that all regulators should have public protection as a focus.
‘It wasn’t triggered by any specific circumstances.’
The legislation will also affect the regulators for nurses, midwives and opticians, as well as dentists.
Put forward by a Tory backbencher, it now has Government support, which means it is almost certain to become law before next May’s general election.
In the summer, the General Dental Council said it recognised its failure to meet the Professional Standards Authority’s standards was ‘entirely unacceptable’, but insisted it had taken action to tackle the problems identified.
The British Dental Association is most alarmed about the proposed huge hike in the annual retention fee (ARF), but has wider concerns about the way the regulator operates.