John Makin says there needs to be fairer treatment of complaints not investigated by the GDC.

Readers of my previous columns will be aware that the GDC’s more proportionate approach to fitness to practise complaints is paying dividends.

Some 70% of matters referred to the GDC are not considered to be allegations of impaired fitness to practise and so would be better resolved elsewhere.

Under an initiative known as NHS Concerns, the GDC refers cases it believes NHS England needs to be aware of to the Medical Directorate of NHS England (NHSE).

These cases are looked at by regional teams who take different approaches.

Some undertake an initial, informal, investigation and are able to satisfy themselves the case does not raise concerns about fitness for purpose.

However, in others, and in possibly the majority of GDC referrals, NHSE automatically invokes the formal performers list procedure.

In DDU’s view this approach does not serve dental professionals or patients well for a number of reasons.

Disproportionate

First, there is a risk that because the complaint was first made to the GDC, the NHSE team will assume it to be more serious than it is.

In some cases this leads to disproportionate investigations by NHS England, resulting in unnecessary stress and inconvenience for the practitioner.

Second, the complainant is not informed about the procedure, nor the outcome, as the matter is confidential.

The purpose is not to address the issues raised by the patient or on their behalf.

When all complainants are seeking is answers, this clearly fails to get to the bottom of their concerns and may not be what they wanted or expected.

Finally, at the moment, there are no similar procedures in place to deal with private complaints or for concerns relating to NHS treatment in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, leading to inconsistencies.

If cases don’t reach the GDC’s fitness to practise threshold, complainants seeking responses to their concerns would be better served if they were offered the opportunity for their complaint to be redirected via the NHS Complaints Procedure.

On members’ behalf, the DDU has suggested this approach to the GDC and to NHSE.

Referrals to the NHSE performance management procedures should only be made in cases where there are grounds for concern about the practitioner’s fitness for purpose.

If performance concerns become evident, NHS England can escalate the matter to its performance management colleagues anyway.

In short, the principle should be that issues are resolved using the lowest level of intervention needed to achieve the appropriate result for practitioner and complainant.