I have seen the soft campaigning in the form of opinion pieces and social media posts by dentists active in various positions in the British Dental Association (BDA) in the weeks and months before the General Dental Council (GDC) announced their new Chair to replace Dr William Moyes who is due to step down soon. The question that forms the title of this piece was running in my mind.
Should the chair of the GDC be a dentist? While we are on this, I hope the people with strong opinions along that line of thought are open to the idea that it could be any other registrant in the dental team and not just a dentist. Why not a dental nurse, a dental hygienist/therapist, a dental technician? Why not anyone who can register with the GDC?
There may be a feeling that a dentist or other GDC registrant would understand the nitty-gritty of dentistry and how it works better than anyone from outside the world of dentistry. They may better be able to appreciate what may have happened in a fitness to practise case from the viewpoint of a fellow professional and may even be able to improve the processes of the GDC to better serve the public.
You could see the strengths that such a person would bring to the post but let us also consider that such a person may be too close to the profession, may have vested interests and may lack experience in other areas which would be of use to the occupier of such a position.
On the other hand, a lay person may not be able to understand the pressures and factors involved in clinical decision making and may not be able to appreciate the reasoning behind clinical decisions. They would however be closer to the public as they are one of them and better able to appreciate the viewpoints of patients affected by the decisions and actions of dental professionals without the biases that a dental professional in the position may bring with them.
Let us also consider the raison d’etre of the GDC. It does not exist to represent dental professionals. It is not the BDA or any of the other trade unions representing the dental team. It exists not to protect dental professionals but to protect the public from dental professionals.
The GDC is not my/your/our friend. It is our professional regulator. It sets the standards of dental education and the standards that we must follow in professional life. It governs us by those standards. It is there to police us, prosecute us and where necessary punish us, whatever we may think of those processes or the outcomes.
It would certainly be good to have registrants as members to sit on the council and help advise on matters affecting the professions, but is it necessary for there to be a dentally qualified or registered chairperson of such a body?
There will be the odd happy accident when a dentally qualified or registered person occupies that position when they can also show a range of suitable qualifications, knowledge and experience in other areas which would be of value to the position, but we cannot expect a dental person to be the chair every time or even often.
The public has expectations of dental professionals, and it is right that they expect the body registering and assessing the fitness to practise of such professionals to be one from the public rather than one from the professions. The interests of the public are paramount in this matter.
Now specifically considering Baron Harris of Haringey, he certainly has an impressive history of public service and experience which puts him in a good position to take on the role of chair of the GDC. Chair of the national preparedness commission, first chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, previously chair of the independent advisory panel on deaths in custody, and his experience at various levels of local government in London as well as at the House of Lords.
I hope that with his vast experience and knowledge, he will be able to improve relations between registrants and the regulator. Maybe not to the extent of being pub buddies, but to the extent that registrants no longer feel the need for self-harm or worse when receiving any communication other than a demand for registration fees from the GDC! Obviously, I have concerns as many of us do about the GDC’s processes, of particular interest, the fitness to practise procedures and the impact on registrants, but one hopes that Lord Harris can deal with our concerns with an open mind.
Please join me in welcoming him to the regulation of dentistry and in wishing him all the very best.