Covid-19: Regulators’ joint statement and new GDC supplementary advice

18 January 2021
3 min read

A joint statement has been issued by the health and social care regulators in relation to how they have, and will continue to, regulate in light of Covid-19.

This includes new supplementary advice issued to GDC decision makers in fitness to practise, providing a lasting point of reference for appropriate considerations to be made around some of the specific challenges Covid-19 has created for dental professionals.

A foreword provided by Ian Brack, chief executive and registrar at the GDC, reads:

In March last year, at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, alongside the other healthcare regulators I issued a statement to support our registrants in dealing with the unprecedented challenges that they were facing. As the pandemic continues, we know that dental professionals continue to work in very difficult situations and under extreme pressures, as do health and social care professionals in other disciplines. I think it is important to acknowledge the care that all dental professionals have continued to provide to patients through these very difficult and challenging circumstances.

With the production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines underway, some dental professionals are playing a vital role in the effort to vaccinate people as quickly as possible, but most continue to sustain dental services while needing to manage the increased risks and constraints imposed by the pandemic. The current surge in cases means that those challenges will inevitably continue for some time to come and dental professionals may continue to have concerns about decisions they need to take in order to provide the best care in challenging circumstances.

When the pandemic began last year, all the professional regulators across the UK set out how we would carry out our roles during this time. We are setting out our approach again in the joint statement below, which re-iterates the principles we said we would rely upon, and will continue to rely upon, as the pandemic continues.

As further reassurance, I am also publishing today the supplementary advice I am giving to GDC case examiners about the factors they should take into account in considering the impact of COVID-19 on a professional’s ability to deliver care.

The joint statement from chief executives of statutory regulators of health and social care professionals reads:

We hold the registers of health and social care professionals in the UK. We support those professionals to deliver better, safer care by setting the standards they need to meet, to act in the best interests of patients and people who use health and social care services at all times.

As registered professionals, the first concern of the individuals on our registers will be the care of their patients and people who use health and social care services. We encourage health and social care professionals, working in partnership with each other and people using services, to use their professional judgement to assess risk and to deliver safe care informed by any relevant guidance and the values and principles set out in their professional standards.

We recognise that in highly challenging circumstances, professionals may need to depart from established procedures in order to care for patients and people using health and social care services. Our regulatory standards are designed to be flexible and to provide a framework for decision-making in a wide range of situations. They support professionals by highlighting the key principles which should be followed, including the need to work cooperatively with colleagues to keep people safe, to practise in line with the best available evidence, to recognise and work within the limits of their competence, and to have appropriate indemnity arrangements relevant to their practice.

We recognise that the individuals on our registers may feel anxious about how context is taken into account when concerns are raised about their decisions and actions in very challenging circumstances. Where a concern is raised about a registered professional, it will always be considered on the specific facts of the case, taking into account the factors relevant to the environment in which the professional is working. We would also take account of any relevant information about resource, guidelines or protocols in place at the time.

We will continue to issue profession specific guidance to our registrants to provide additional support where that is needed.

The statutory health and care regulators that have agreed to this statement are:

  • General Chiropractic Council
  • General Dental Council
  • General Medical Council
  • General Optical Council
  • General Osteopathic Council
  • General Pharmaceutical Council
  • Health and Care Professions Council
  • Nursing and Midwifery Council
  • Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland
  • Social Work England

In response to this statement, John Makin, head of the DDU, commented, “We welcome that the GDC recognises the challenging circumstances faced by dental professionals at this time. A recent DDU survey found that 60 per cent of respondents were concerned about facing a complaint, claim or GDC investigation relating to the pandemic. It is important that context is indeed taken into account by decision makers when considering concerns raised particularly as this can often be months or even years after the event.”