New powers for the GDC

ChessThe General Dental Council has been given the go-ahead to make changes to its fitness to practise proceedings, Sophie Bracken reports.

An order has been laid before Parliament granting the General Dental Council (GDC) new powers related to its process of investigating fitness to practise (FtP) cases.

According to a statement from the GDC, the new powers are intended to enable swifter investigation once a FtP complaint arises, as well as improving the efficiency of the FtP process.

New case examiners

A significant rise in FtP complaints over recent years has led to a backlog of cases at the GDC; during 2014 the council held a backlog of 750 cases, with the median time from initial complaint to final hearing determination taking a staggering 100 weeks.

Additionally, in its 2014-2015 performance review of healthcare regulators, the Professional Standards Authority noted that the GDC did not meet eight of the 24 Standards of Good Regulation, relating to the GDC’s registration and FtP functions – the highest failure rate of all regulators assessed.

The GDC’s new powers come about as a result of the council’s proposal to amend the Dentists’ Act 1984, which governs the current FtP process, and recognition by the Department of Health in 2014 for the need to change the system. A Section 60 order to amend the Act has now been passed, granting the GDC its new powers, which come into effect in summer 2016.

What this means is the GDC can appoint case examiners that will be given the power to decide cases at an earlier stage than at present. The order has also been laid before the Scottish Parliament.

‘This is a milestone for the GDC’, commented Evlynne Gilvarry, chief executive and registrar of the GDC.

‘These long sought new powers will lead to a more streamlined complaints system with timelier decisions, and with appropriate safeguards for both patients and dental professionals.

Opening closed cases

However, the GDC’s new powers will extend beyond the ability to deal with FtP cases in a timelier manner.

The amendments to the Dentists’ Act 1984 will also give the GDC the power to review closed FtP cases where the council believes it is in the public interest, where the decision may be flawed or where new information comes to light.

The GDC believes this new power makes the FtP system fairer and more transparent.

‘We welcome these new powers as a first, important step in modernising our fitness to practise processes and we will continue to make the case for more fundamental reforms in the interests of patients and professionals’, Evlynne Gilvarry said.

Mixed feelings

A consultation process on the introduction of amendments to the Act opened on 17 November 2014, closed on 12 January 2015 and was published on 19 November 2015. The results of the consultation showed that 74% of responders agreed the GDC should be provided with a power to introduce case examiners in to the FtP process, who will have the ability to exercise the functions of the Investigating Committee.

However, 7% did not agree with the introduction of case examiners, believing it provides the GDC with the power to become ‘judge and jury’ and there is a danger that the independence of decision-making may be lost, as the case examiners will be officers of the council.

Additionally, 12% of responders were unsure whether case examiners should be introduced because of a reduction from a three-person panel to a two-person case examiner decision, or would like to see an overhaul of the regulatory system as a whole.


  1. 1

    Does anyone associated with the FtP process have the courage to carry out an audit of FtP cases?
    Date of first registration
    Country of FR (Broadly UK v Overseas)
    Analysed to %age of registrants.
    Category of Practice…. Mainly NHS/Non GDS…. Corporate/Independent, small group.
    I am sure Political correctness and even EU legislation makes this taboo. Sadly the public will as always be the victims of the ineffectual smokescreen of a Statutory body totally unable to carry out its Primary Function.

  2. 2

    And will Case Examiners have any better understanding than the current Case Workers or is it more of the same except for being able to rake up old cases if they get short of work…..,sorry new information comes to light.

    We need some dentally intelligent input into cases from the beginning.

  3. 3

    The issues of a Regulator is to Regulate. This means transparency and neutrality in the assessment of the competence and conduct of a registrant and the profession.

    The function of a prosecution is to prosecute. That is in an adversarial system, to present the evidence for prosecution of a registrant – and the prosecution only to secure a conviction. So if a Regulator behaves in this manner, this introduces the concept of lawyers withholding evidence that will secure an acquittal and bias into the assessment of the regulation of the registrant and the profession.

    This is contrary to the function of a regulator and may be judged to be a perversion of the course of justice.

    This is not without precedent. The General Medical Council is currently subject to a recorded crime by the Police of Perverting the Course of Justice and it is possible that this may also include the General Dental Council at sometime in the near future.

    Suffolk crime reference IE/15/1483 and out of force referral to London Metropolitan Police OF/15/216

    So the action of a regulator also prosecuting cases is a breach of their Statutory Duty for Regulation and a breach of a Duty of Candour, in that evidence is always withheld by prosecution.

    The interesting feature of Dental (and Medical) Regulation is that the prosecution lawyers owe a duty of care to the defendant, by virtue of the fact that the Registrant is funding the legal case against him/her as a registrant through Annual Practice Registration Fees. The relationship therefore between the Prosecution Lawyer and the Defendant is unusual, and this situation is to be challenged. This means if the prosecution lawyer withholds evidence that might weaken the prosecution’s case, this could be regarded as serious professional misconduct and be of interest to the Solicitors Regulation Agency and result in suspension of the lawyer or even erasure.

    So what does this mean? Well it means that for Clinical Regulation to be effective it must be separate from Prosecution.

    The current situation is currently being challenged and it is predicted that FTP panels will be abandoned in the future with prosecutions more appropriately conducted in Courts of Law, with a judge not under political control.

    As it stands the curt system is not fit for purpose and it has no support from the Clinical Professions.

    It is open to abuse and is currently used with impunity against whistle blowers.

    This is about to change….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You Might Also Like