The General Dental Council (GDC) is launching a pilot that will test a change to the initial stages of its fitness to practise processes to improve proportionality and timeliness. Process changes are being made to the way investigations are carried out in certain cases to help to resolve issues faster while continuing to effectively maintain public safety and confidence in the dental profession.
The GDC wants to ensure matters that do not pose a risk to public safety or confidence are concluded as quickly as possible. The change in the process being piloted will help ensure the regulator is fully informed of all relevant facts as early as possible, ensuring that only issues amounting to a fitness to practise concern are fully investigated.
The pilot will run for six months starting on September 4, 2023. It will be applied initially to single-patient clinical practice cases, where the dental professional involved has no previous fitness to practise concerns but may be expanded during the pilot.
The GDC’s current legislative framework effectively requires all matters relating to the clinical practice of a dental professional to be referred from the initial assessment stage to assessment for an investigation. Considerable effort and resources are then allocated to gathering information, whether or not it is required, to reach a decision.
The change being piloted is designed to limit the information gathered to what is specifically required in each case. In these cases, that will normally be the patient’s clinical records. The aim is to reduce the time it takes to conclude low-level issues. The process will rely on being able to access records quickly, so the cooperation of dental professionals and their representatives is needed if the pilot is to succeed.
The new pilot reflects the GDC’s desire to make improvements to the fitness to practise process where it can, ahead of any potential regulatory reform. It is also hoped that improved timeliness and proportionality will reduce the impact of fitness to practise investigations on the health and wellbeing of those involved.
John Cullinane, executive director, Fitness to Practise, said, “We know our investigations can be complex and take a long time and that they can have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of those involved. We also know that lengthy investigations about what can be perceived as minor issues, can lead to feelings of mistrust and frustration in the fitness to practise process.
“We will continue to try and improve our processes within the current legislation, and we hope that by working with others, we can make some significant improvements in timeliness without affecting the outcomes of these investigations. Our own analysis tells us that cases that would fall into the scope of this pilot do not normally progress beyond our assessment stage, so we hope this small change will make a big difference.”
Dental Protection hopes the pilot will demonstrate that more can be done by the GDC to improve and speed up the process for all cases.
George Wright, deputy dental director at Dental Protection, said, “Action by the government to amend the GDC’s legislation could give the regulator discretion not to take forward investigations where allegations clearly do not require action, and therefore dedicate more time to the most serious allegations. In the absence of this, we have been calling on the GDC to make more progress in tackling the delay in case handling itself.
“It is encouraging that the GDC has taken this step to trial more informed decision-making early in the process in respect of simple cases, with a view to avoiding delays. This is a welcome move, and we hope it results in resolving this cohort of cases more quickly.
“We also hope the pilot demonstrates the potential for the GDC to do more to bring about speedier, more informed and robust decision-making across all cases.
“The bigger concern for the dental professionals we represent at Dental Protection is the lack of proportionality and timeliness in the handling of cases that are not closed at assessment. We believe the consistent use of more experienced caseworkers in particularly complex cases would result in better and faster decision making, as well as fewer adjournments by case examiners and challenges to the decisions made.
“A key factor that could substantially improve proportionality would be for the GDC to reconsider its policy of referring matters to case examiners where it is clear from their own clinical adviser that misconduct cannot be established. We will continue to raise these concerns with the GDC.”