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Concerns voiced over GDC inquiry

Investigation yielded a report stretching to 250 pages, and has taken 21 months to complete

The results of an independent inquiry into allegations that the General Dental Council (GDC) failed in its statutory duties were published this week.

The report – by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care – followed its investigation into concerns raised by former chair of the dental regulators, Alison Lockyer.

Alison resigned as chair of the GDC and as a member of the Council amid rumours of divisions within the regulatory body back in 2011.

The investigation yielded a report stretching to 250 pages, and has taken 21 months to complete.

The investigation included focuses on the upheavals within the GDC between 2009 and 2011, the massive turnover of GDC staff and the serious problems that beset the Fitness to Practise procedures throughout that period.

The GDC itself has welcomed the findings of inquiry but others within the profession questioned both the length of time it took to come to fruition and its findings.

The GDC said: ‘Following a thorough investigation which began in September 2011, the report rejects the allegations made against the GDC and its staff. It found that, while there were weaknesses in the GDC’s governance and fitness to practise processes during 2009 to early 2011, the GDC did not fail patients then, and is on the right track now.

The report makes important recommendations for improvements in governance, many of which the GDC claims it has already implemented.

Chair Kevin O’Brien said: ‘We welcome the findings of the PSA’s report and the opportunity to draw a line under this matter. We will review all aspects of the report to ensure we are acting on any lessons to be learnt and we are very pleased that the PSA gives a clear endorsement of reforms we have already introduced.’

But the BDA – on whose Principal Executive Committee Alison sits, and which has overall responsibility for the control and direction of the policy and affairs of the Association – claims the PSA report makes ‘concerning reading’, suggesting it raises ‘serious concerns about the performance of the organisation in recent years’.

Peter Ward, chief executive of the BDA, said: ‘This report identifies deeply concerning failings around the departure of Dr Lockyer from her role at the GDC. The mishandling of proceedings that is spelt out in this report is astonishing. For a professional regulator to have made such errors in the handling of proceedings is deeply troubling.

‘Dentistry needs a strong regulator in which practitioners and patients alike can have confidence. The GDC will have a great deal of work to do to assuage the doubts about it that will have been engendered by its handling of Dr Lockyer and convince the profession that it really has achieved the improvements in its regulatory performance that the PSA identifies.’

Commenting on the report, Kevin Lewis, dental director of Dental Protection, who represented Alison Lockyer, said: ‘Clearly, the GDC is in a better place now than it was during the turbulent period which may have contributed in part to the events that are chronicled by this report. In particular, the early stages of the Fitness to Practise procedures have been heavily overhauled and this process of improvement is continuing. We welcome that, and also the spirit in which the GDC has acknowledged that all was not well when we first voiced our own concerns. As for the revelations regarding its internal processes, the GDC will no doubt be relieved that the passage of time and the introduction of some new and improved processes in the intervening period, will allow some distance to be put between these embarrassing events and the way in which it plans to conduct its affairs going forwards.’

Alison Lockyer issued a statement, saying: ‘I am pleased that a light has been shone on some of the problems to which I was seeking to draw attention and if, as a result of this, the task of my successors is easier, I can take considerable comfort from that.’

She added: ‘It is nevertheless disappointing that the opportunity for a full investigation has been missed and the report from the Professional Standards Authority confines itself to the issues specified by the Department of Health.’

For more, visit http://www.professionalstandards.org.uk/

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The fitness to practise proceedings of the GDC are famously cumbersome and expensive. Any dentist caught up in the 'meat grinder' loses huge amounts of time and money. The GDC damages the profession and many unfortunate individual dentists by releasing the names of dentists they have struck off before those dentists appeals have been properly heard. I respect what they are trying to do, and the job is not easy, but the law regards citizens as innocent until proven guilty. The GDC in recent years is too quick to go to full due process, and that is why there are so many expensive cases now ongoing. I hope they can get much better at screening out at an early stage those cases which are not in the public interest to pursue. If you spend £100,000 or £1,000,000 in legal fees prosecuting a dentist for minor claims infringements, which may or may not have been intentional, this is not in the public interest at all. More common sense and pragmatism is required, and some better coaching in when to use discretion.