The head of the under-fire General Dental Council (GDC) has insisted it is turning the corner and will take the ‘stress’ out of fitness to practise cases.
Evlynne Gilvarry admitted the need for ‘significant improvement’ by the regulator had been exposed by a big surge in complaints – which are up 115% since 2011.
That increase sparked fierce criticism that dentists and patients were being ‘left in limbo’ as fitness to practise cases dragged on – and piled pressure on Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to overhaul regulation.
The GDC itself said it was operating under outdated 30-year-old rule, criticising ‘weak arrangements for local resolution’, which led to unnecessary fitness to practise cases.
But, in an article for the Politics Home website, Ms Gilvarry, the GDC’s chief executive and registrar, said it was ‘implementing a major change programme that is already delivering real improvements’.
The ‘progress’ included:
- A backlog of 750 cases was on course to be cleared by the end of August, after two extra casework teams were set up last year
- Most new cases are now being processed with 10 days – 54 of 83 in June 2015, compared with 56 of 340 in the first three months of 2014
- More assessments are being completed each month – 57 by each casework team in June 2015, up from 45 in October 2014
- More conduct committee meetings are being heard – 297 are expected to be heard in 2015, up from 194 last year
- Audit scores have ‘significantly improved’ for timeliness (75%), accuracy (93%), compliance with procedures (95%) and decision-making (98%)
- A proposal to introduce case examiners with ‘powers to dispose of more cases at an earlier stage’.
Ms Gilvarry said: ‘We are aware of the challenges of the past and have actively confronted them.
‘We have invested substantially to clear a backlog of cases that had built up over the years of big increases in complaints.
‘We have completely overhauled our training and performance management of staff, and upgraded our IT systems.
‘We are also working with other bodies – such as NHS England and the Care Quality Commission – to improve the overall system of dental regulation in the UK, in particular in the area of dealing with complaints.
‘This improvement does not show through in the latest performance review due to the historical nature of the evidence the PSA use in its process.
‘However, I am very positive about the direction of travel of our fitness to practise function.’
Other reforms included cutting operating cost by bringing legal work in-house – ending a reliance on costly external lawyers, she said.