GDC pays damages after unlawful under-guise operation
The General Dental Council has paid an undisclosed sum of damages to a clinical dental technician after Dental Protection successfully secured an admission by the regulator to having acted “unlawfully in undertaking an under-guise operation without reasonable justification”.
Dental Protection defended the member, who had been the subject of an anonymous complaint to the GDC that he may be working without registration, and that his laboratory was in a bespoke setting in his home. The GDC instructed an under-guise operation creating a fictitious scenario with two private investigators posing as relatives of “Evelyn”, an elderly relative who needed dentures but was too ill to attend in person.
The Interim Orders Committee concluded that any evidence from the investigation was flawed and unfair, and the GDC Fitness to Practise Committee halted any further action on grounds of an abuse of process.
Dental Protection, instructing Lee Biddle of legal firm BLM, sought an order against the GDC to recover legal costs, which the GDC conceded in August last year.
Most recently, the GDC accepted a declaration by the court that it has acted unlawfully by undertaking an under-guise operation without reasonable justification. This is in breach of the clinical dental technician’s rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Data Protection Act 1998 and Data Protection Act 2018.
While the exact number of covert investigations undertaken by the GDC has not been established, a freedom of information request revealed that it spent a minimum of £15,416 on this in 2017 alone.
Raj Rattan, dental director at Dental Protection, said, “The GDC targeting its own registrants without a sufficiently justified cause is extremely concerning for dentists. The use of an entirely contrived scenario about a sick pensioner in very difficult circumstances was designed to trigger an emotional response and lure a registrant into acting outside of their scope. This is hardly an ordinary opportunity for wrongdoing, and it is unfair and invasive.
“Throughout this case, the GDC asserted that under-guise investigations are essential to carry out its statutory function. However, in an unprecedented step, it has now admitted acting unlawfully when using under-guise investigations in this case and has agreed paying damages to our member.
“This has been a harrowing time for our member, and we hope that no one else needs to suffers in the same way.
“We have very strong concerns about the use of undercover investigators. Dental professionals should be able to be confident that any investigation into them is based on their real-life practice and interactions with others, and not on concocted situations with operatives actively seeking to gather evidence that could be used against them.
“I am pleased that we were able to go above and beyond in supporting our members, using our discretion to provide additional assistance and successfully securing financial damages.”
Responding to a question about the use of ‘undercover’ investigations in fitness to practise, GDC executive director of fitness to practise, John Cullinane, said, “The General Dental Council has used undercover investigators in fitness to practise cases extremely rarely. Where there is potential risk to the public, and where there is no other way to investigate a specific allegation that has been made, we will consider use of undercover approaches. A robust process is in place to assess risk to public health, safety and wellbeing, which is designed to balance public protection with the rights of the individuals concerned. We take this responsibility extremely seriously.”