Keep it local

dental patient complaintJohn Makin remarks on the growing number of complaints coming from other dental professionals.

Efforts by the General Dental Council (GDC) to better signpost those raising concerns about fitness to practise (FTP) to local processes rather than the regulator have begun to pay off.

The number of complaints to the GDC about FTP decreased by 14% in 2018 compared to 2017. However, one concerning trend has been the increasing proportion of complaints raised by registrants.

The Dental Defence Union has noticed a disappointing trend for an increasing number of claims and GDC cases that appear to originate from critical comments made by other dental professionals.

This is evidenced by GDC figures that show 10% of all cases referred in 2018 came from other registrants. This figure has increased from 9% in 2017 and 6% the year before. Meanwhile, concerns raised by patients accounted for 47% of cases in 2018, down from 57% the previous year.

While the proportion of concerns raised by registrants has increased, with numbers of GDC FTP cases falling overall, this may not reflect an increasing number of cases. Nonetheless, it is a concerning trend.

We all have a duty to raise concerns if patients are at risk. No doubt, in many cases, dental professionals referring colleagues to the GDC have genuine reasons for doing so. However, it is only in rare cases that the GDC will be your first port of call.

Raising issues

Take the situation where a colleague is not adhering to antibiotic prescribing principles, failing to take appropriate radiographs and not recording periodontal indices. It is important not to turn a blind eye to these performance issues that could potentially cause harm to patients.

However, the GDC’s guidance (principle eight) explains if there are genuine concerns patients may be at risk, wherever possible they should first be raised at a local level.

Bear in mind your actions should not be viewed in a negative light, providing you acted honestly, used the right channels and had patients’ best interests in mind.

In this scenario, you could, for example, raise concerns initially with a senior member of the team and talk to the colleague concerned.

You may decide to carry out a practice audit to ensure consistency among the team and implement changes necessary as a result. If this doesn’t lead to changes, you could involve your clinical director or get external help, such as from the Local Dental Committees’ practitioner advice and support scheme. Only in rare situations should the regulator be involved.