Before I start, I suppose for the benefit of the handful of you who have never seen the BBC’s Line of Duty (what on Earth are you thinking?), I ought to start by briefly outlining what I’m blithering on about.
Line of Duty is the gripping BBC police series that follows the workings and investigations of AC-12, an Anti-Corruption unit which roots out corrupt police officers in an unspecified English city, but for some odd reason, is filmed in Belfast.
That’s it really. The heroes are Superintendent Ted Hastings, Detective Inspector Kate Fleming and acting Detective Inspector Steve Arnott. The baddies in the drama are too numerous to mention and are often disguised as goodies, which is kind of the point of the series.
We THINK that Superintendent Hastings has a Class II Division 2, but it’s difficult to tell since he rarely smiles. Steve Arnott hides his teeth under an impressive, yet ageing beard. Kate Fleming…well she’s just perfect.
So, it’s been a heavy few days for the General Dental Council, clinging desperately on to its reputation as a law-abiding health regulator, while being dragged into a murky, treacherous quicksand, by its own past misdemeanours. The following isn’t a full list of the GDC’s antics, by any means.
Charge 1 – Not Verifying Qualifications Adequately
Last week, the GDC was criticised for registering a nurse and a dentist, after failing to notice that both had submitted fraudulent paperwork in support of their registration applications.
The dentist actually submitted two bogus qualifications. In 2014 she submitted ‘evidence’ of a degree from one dental school, but withdrew the application when the GDC said they would carry out verification checks on her submission, but that didn’t stop the GDC from still registering her when she made another application after presenting evidence of another fraudulent BDS degree, in 2015.
To be fair, the dentist said she had never practised in the UK, but as Ted Hastings would say, “That’s not the point, fella.”
The dental nurse HAD worked as a dental nurse. It was heard at her Professional Conduct Committee hearing that she’d submitted evidence of a dental nursing diploma, but she’d not completed all the tests of the Level 3 Dental Nursing Diploma AND she included an enrolment number and date of birth, that related to another candidate. But despite that, the GDC still registered her.
The GDC has ‘form’ in this sort of thing and has a previous offence to be taken into consideration.
As far back as 2010, a woman hit the headlines when it was found she worked in NHS hospitals across England as a senior house officer, for nine years, after forging qualifications.
Despite holding a fitness to practice panel looking into the woman, the GDC closed the case without discovering her deception.
The BBC News website wrote “In 2007 Sharma tried to gain full registration with the GDC. This was a paper exercise, but it was turned down because she did not appear to have the requisite knowledge and skill for full registration as a dentist.”
“However, she managed to carry on working due to her temporary registration. This included operating on people under supervision.”
A recurring theme in Line of Duty is ‘the preservation of life.’ In both the dental and medical professions, we try and ‘do no harm.’
Apparently ‘doing no harm’ doesn’t apply to the General Dental Council since it doesn’t to appear to carry out one of its primary functions with due diligence - registering appropriately qualified individuals. (More of which, later). Registering dental professionals who are unqualified is the epitome of doing harm, in my book and I’m sure the black book of Steve Arnott.
If I were Ted Hastings, I’d be referring the GDC to the Professional Standards Authority forthwith.
DI Kate Fleming’s Take
“What kind of a knobby verification process is that?”
Charge 2 – More Of The Same Really + Obstinacy
Meanwhile, the British Association of Dental Therapists and British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy are also doing battle with the GDC for its verification processes.
Currently, qualified overseas dentists from outside the European Union can join the dental care professionals register as dental therapists, without having to pass a practical examination to test their practical skills, whereas overseas dentists who wish to register as dentists, have to pass either the Overseas Registration Examination, or the Licentiate in Dental Surgery.
The GDC’s own website shows that overseas dentists taking the ORE examination fail the practical manikin examination at high rates. There was a 50% failure rate for the practical test in Part 2 of the ORE in January 2020.
The GDC has resisted calls to introduce a practical test for those dentists wishing to go into dental therapy.
Currently, the GDC assesses the skills and qualifications of dentists wishing to register as dental hygienists by a purely paperwork assessment of curriculums, qualifications and ‘learning requirements.’ The GDC calls its paperwork process ‘robust,’ yet charge no.1 shows that the process is far from robust. In fact, it’s quite limp.
The GDC is obstinate in its position and at one point it said that it wouldn’t change its position on tests unless there was “evidence to the contrary” – in other words, till patients got harmed? The GDC also didn’t supply a reporter with a direct answer when he asked for their comments on the anomaly of allowing dentists to register as therapists when it was shown that at the time, nearly one in two dentists failed the practical examination.
This reminded me of DCI Roseanne Huntley’s maintenance of innocence right up to the very end, even trying to drop her husband in it, by framing him for the murder of forensics scientist Tim Ifield.
Refer to the Professional Standards Authority, or wait till the General Medical Council takes over the GDC, by absorbing it.
DI Kate Fleming’s Take
“What kind of a knobby ‘robust’ process is that for registering dental therapists?’
Charge 3 – Questionable Financial Decisions
AC-12 have uncovered loads of dodgy money transactions during the five series so far, and the GDC was involved in making (being charitable), ‘questionable’ financial decisions during the first few months of the pandemic.
Most will know that during the dental shutdown that started in March 2020, many dental professionals were furloughed. Some self-employed dental care professionals such as dental hygienists and dental therapists were made temporarily redundant and were forced to claim benefits as a result.
With the deadline for the July Annual Retention Fee payment rapidly approaching, there were calls for the GDC to either reduce the ARF, or introduce an emergency payment by instalment scheme.
But a blog on the GDC website in the Spring by Stefan Czerniawski made it clear that the GDC didn’t have any immediate intention of helping out dental professionals when they were experiencing financial difficulties, when they really needed it.
Financial ‘uncertainty’ was one of the reasons the GDC used for its failure to take action. Ironically, they announced the introduction of a new facility for direct debit instalment payments in March. The introduction of the scheme took place when financial uncertainty had presumably evaporated, despite the fact that the GDC’s income would have changed very little over the year, and had presumably gone down slightly following a reduction in registrants during the latter half of 2020.
The GDC found enough money though, to top up the furlough payments of some of its staff. Even Private Eye saw there was something slightly awry with that decision in an article it published with the title “No pain, no gain.”
In Line of Duty, we saw Lindsay Denton with a stash of Organised Crime Group cash and later some of the notes from the same batch found their way into Steve Arnott’s car boot, placed by bent copper DI Mathew Cotton. The GDC’s prints were metaphorically all over the ARF money they wanted to keep to themselves and distribute to their own staff.
Place an undercover forensic accountant in the GDC’s headquarters, to root out ‘H,’ the shadowy ‘Head Incompetent,’ or give them a Regulation 15 Notice.
Superintendent Ted Hastings’ Take
“We’ve been round the houses. Round the houses and down the bloody drains, and still, we can’t fathom the GDC’s logic.”
Charge 4 – Withholding Evidence
In 2019 A High Court Judge criticised the GDC’s Professional Conduct procedures after highlighting a “serious procedural irregularity” which allowed a fraudulent dentist to be restored to the dental register.
Mr Justice Julian Knowles was hearing a case brought by the Professional Standards Authority which opposed the decision of the GDC to restore the dentist, previously removed from the register after being convicted of conspiracy to defraud in 2007.
It was heard that the Professional Conduct Committee which restored the dentist to the register was not presented with important evidence of the dentist’s most recent dishonesty, by the General Dental Council itself.
In other words, the GDC withheld evidence, knowing it was available.
The original PCC restored the dentist after hearing he had undertaken reflection and had taken a postgraduate diploma in Law and Ethics. The committee considered the dentist to have remediated his dishonesty.
Unbeknown to the PCC at the time they considered the dentist’s application for restoration, he had relatively recently been found by a judge to have given false evidence during a civil action against him.
The PSA, supported by the GDC, said the PCC’s decision to restore the dentist was “flawed because it failed to take relevant evidence into account.”
The evidence of the dentist’s dishonesty during the 2017 civil court case was not presented to the PCC considering restoration since it was initially ‘omitted in error’ from the bundle of papers served on his solicitors in advance of the PCC hearing scheduled for June 2018, although it had been in the GDC’s possession since November 2017. Included in the bundle at that time, was a judgement from the civil case which also had an adverse judgement against the dentist.
The judge hearing the civil case described the dentist’s involvement in the sale of a Midlands dental practice as amounting to “gross duplicity.”
Long story short, the civil case judgement was received by the GDC, but was overlooked and was delivered late to the dentist’s solicitor. Before the hearing, Counsel for the dentist objected to either of two judgments being put before the PCC on the basis that the GDC had only very recently indicated that it intended to rely upon them, and further that the Second (2017) Judgment was at that stage subject to an appeal.
“By way of compromise and with a view to the hearing not being delayed by procedural objections (including the possibility of an adjournment), it was agreed between the GDC and Mr Hussain that the First (2007) Judgment, but not the Second (2017) Judgment, would go before the PCC.”
In other words, the evidence of the dentist’s most recent act of dishonesty had been withheld to save time. Without this evidence, or awareness of its existence, the PCC restored the dentist not knowing he had recently given allegedly false and dishonest evidence in court
As any faithful fan of Line of Duty knows as basics, evidence is pretty crucial in any investigation – especially into bent coppers. I would have thought it would be equally important in investigations into bent dentists. But the GDC sees it differently, apparently. Roz Huntley’s withholding of Tim Ifield’s forensic evidence led to the wrong man being banged up in custody, whereas the GDC withholding of evidence led to the wrong man being reinstated to potential drill with alacrity.
Refer to the Professional Standards Authority…oh, that’s already been done. A tap on the wrist and tell them they’re not to do it again, then?
Acting DI Steve Arnott’s Take
Charge 5 – Impersonating A Dignified, Responsible Health Regulator
Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton was ‘arrested’ for impersonating a police officer, by DI Mathew Cotton, minutes before losing her life at his hands in Series 3.
This past week, the GDC went way outside the lines in the eyes of many dental professionals when they held their hands up and told Dental Protection “It’s a fair cop” after admitteing to Dental Protection that it acted ‘unlawfully in undertaking an under-guise operation without reasonable justification.’
In other words, they hired private detectives to pose as relatives of a housebound lady called ‘Evelyn’ in order to induce a clinical dental technician to venture outside his scope of practice, by playing on his sympathies.
Dental Protection secured an admission from the GDC that it acted unlawfully in securing evidence for their case against the technician, as well as legal costs and damages for their member.
None. Dental Protection did it…although the GDC could be reported to the PSA. I mean, they acted unlawfully. There must be some sanction that can be applied, surely? Maybe when the GDC is dissolved and incorporated into the GMC? There I go with the acronyms again.
Superintendent Ted Hastings’ Take
“God, give me strength.”