The GDC (General Dental Council) is a necessary body in today’s world and it has, unfortunately in the opinion of many, lost its way, creating a climate of fear amongst the dental profession. The culture that has allegedly been created within the GDC over the last decade (whether actual or just perceived by those outside its hallowed halls) has damaged not only the profession but the GDC itself, to the extent that it is now having to correct its course. I say this because if the regulator was doing a ‘good job’, there would have been no need to drag it before the Health Select Committee. It finds itself under siege and was for several years criticised by its own regulator, the PSA (Professional Standards Authority).
There is an allegation made by many within the dental profession that the changes made at the GDC were done deliberately, with the express purpose of breaking the back of the dental profession. I am not blessed with knowledge as to whether this is or is not the case, but the very fact that dentists are thinking this shows where the problem lies. Dentists feel threatened by the most expensive health regulator in the country (that dentists pay for) and are now finding themselves practising defensively in an environment of fear and dread. The majority (as shown by countless online polls) do not trust or respect the body that regulates them … and self-regulation cannot survive without the consent and cooperation of those regulated.
A regulator should not regulate through fear and tyranny but through earned authority and mutual respect. This respect was lost, not by the rise in the ARF (Annual Retention Fee), nor by the unfortunate advertising the GDC did to encourage patients to complain. The true loss of trust, in my opinion, came in the numerous charge sheets filled to the brim with (I’m going to say alleged to keep the lawyers happy) allegedly spurious and ridiculous allegations:
- “You failed to keep your hair out of your face.”
- “Bouncing balls of putty in the corridor.”
- “Writing a prescription to yourself for toothpaste.”
- “The post didn’t reach the apex.”
- “You failed to justify why you did a try in.”
- “Failure to document the site of LA for the extraction of an upper tooth.”
- “Took a long time to perform a routine extraction.”
- “Failure to diagnose a ledge to the filling for the LL7.”
- “Not recording consent for the provision of a crown placed on an implant.”
There has been too much emphasis on filling charge sheets with as many allegations as possible instead of concentrating on the aspects of suboptimal practice that actually matter. Until that aspect of the fitness to practice process is fully corrected (and to its credit the GDC has taken significant steps in the right direction with its recent changes), the GDC will remain a body that attracts derision and produces fear.
Ironically, a lot of these issues weren’t solely the GDC’s fault. The profession itself has to take a lot of the responsibility. Dentists were the expert witnesses that helped formulate those charges. Dentists were some of the committee members that didn’t resign when the ship started to be steered the wrong way. How many of us wrote to the GDC to demand change? How many of us sent an email to object to the ARF? By our lack of unity, by our lack of resolve, we leave ourselves vulnerable.