Joint statement from General Dental Council (GDC) and General Medical Council (GMC) on pandemic pressures

13 December 2021
3 min read

The regulators of UK health and social care professionals have reiterated their support for staff working together to tackle the ongoing pandemic and seasonal pressure on services.

The statement reads, “We know that registrants will be making difficult decisions around care provision in very challenging circumstances; that context is understood and will be considered by regulators.

“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 law and 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.”

Additional statutory health and care regulators that have agreed to this statement are,

  • General Chiropractic 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.

Dental Protection has welcomed the statement, which follows a similar joint statement issued near the start of the pandemic. 

Separately, the GDC has also developed supplementary advice to support case examiners in considering factors relating to the impact of Covid-19 on a dental professional’s ability to deliver care.

Dental Protection said the renewed GDC commitment would be well received, but must stand the test of time. A survey of the organisation’s members showed that two in five dentists (40 per cent) said fear of investigations arising from difficult decisions made during Covid-19, or disruption to care, was having most impact on their mental wellbeing.

Raj Rattan, dental director at Dental Protection, said, “We are pleased that the GDC, alongside other health and social care regulators, has taken this step to again reassure dental professionals.  

“Throughout this period, dental professionals have told us about a range of issues that have been impacting their mental wellbeing - from concern for their patients, the health of their family, friends and colleagues, the impact of loss of income, and the challenges of adapting to new ways of working.

“There has been a growing concern about the risk of regulatory investigation, and how actions and clinical interventions may be perceived in any future investigation if insufficient consideration is given to the impact of the pandemic. The risk is that hindsight bias is real because memories fade over time and it is important to safeguard against this.

“Ongoing reassurance from the GDC on how the context of the Covid-19 pandemic will be taken into account, alongside the supplementary advice developed for its case examiners, will therefore go some way towards easing these fears and we are glad the GDC have heeded our calls for this.

“Recognising that by the very nature of dental care, a complaint and subsequent investigation can arise several years after the event, it is crucial that the GDC’s guidance stands the test of time, lest the very real pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing disruption of care be forgotten.

“We will continue to monitor this closely to ensure that dental professionals are protected.”