If ever you are considering raising concerns about a colleague you should contact the DDU or your own dental defence organisation for advice and assistance in the first instance, highlights Alison Large.

When you are starting out in your dental career it can be particularly daunting to question a colleague about treatment or behaviour which you think may be at odds with good practice. Take the anonymised example of a foundation dentist who rang the DDU’s freephone helpline recently.

She had been working in a dental practice for a few months and was concerned about the behaviour of an experienced dentist within the practice. She felt the dentist didn’t explain treatment options fully to patients or the benefits and risks of particular treatments. One patient told her that when he asked for more information he got quite annoyed and impatient with them.

Although most patients seemed happy enough with the dentist’s treatment the foundation dentist felt the way he behaved did not fit with what she had been taught at dental school. The DDU member was unsure what to do and although she knew she had a duty to raise concerns she felt worried about doing so, especially since she had only recently graduated.

‘Raise concerns if patients are at risk’

Dental professionals have a duty to tell someone if they have concerns about a colleague. However, for newly qualified dentists this can be a worry, especially, as in this case, if the person they are considering raising concerns about is much more experienced. It is always advisable to consider whether your outlined concerns are based on fact or opinion, and whether the information has been gained by direct observation, or reported via a third party such as a patient, or work colleague. How you approach this matter will vary depending on the circumstances and your dental defence organisation will be able to assist you when you are deciding what to do.

Principle eight of the GDC’s Standards for the Dental Team is to ‘raise concerns if patients are at risk’. This means that all dental professionals have a professional responsibility to speak up if they witness treatment or behaviour that poses a risk to patients or colleagues. The GDC also has guidance that helps dental professionals decide on what steps to take if they think patients or colleagues may be at risk. The guidance reminds dental professionals of their responsibility to raise concerns and explains why and how to raise a concern. It also reminds those who own or run a practice of their duty to support a workplace culture where staff can speak about issues openly and without fear of reprisal.

Acting honestly

The DDU receives many calls each year from members who are wondering whether they should raise concerns, something that can cause dental professionals a great deal of anxiety. It is important not to turn a blind eye to issues such as a colleague’s poor performance, which could potentially cause harm to patients.

Even if a concern turns out to be nothing serious, your actions should not be viewed badly as long as you acted honestly, used the right channels and had patients’ best interests in mind.

You should report your concerns promptly, ideally in writing, following the practice policy. You should request a written response so that you know the concerns have been dealt with. It is important to stick to the facts and not to let your personal feelings about a colleague, good or bad, get in the way of you raising concerns. Make sure you keep a record of the issues that led to you raising concerns and also keep a copy of your letter.

A joint letter of concern

On occasion you may be aware of other colleagues who share your worries. In those circumstances you may wish to consider writing a joint letter of concern, which may add more weight to your concerns and have a greater impact.

If after you raise concerns, no action is taken to address the issues that you have raised and you are worried that a patient may be harmed as a result, you may have to escalate your concerns further.

If ever you are considering raising concerns about a colleague you should contact the DDU or your own dental defence organisation for advice and assistance in the first instance. They will be able to guide you through the process and offer support.