The GDC have recently being taking a stance over professional conduct and particularly in regard to social media. The Standards say that we must not publically criticise colleagues unless this is done as part of raising a concern. I should like to make it clear at the outset of this blog that what follows is part of me raising concerns. Concerns that I feel are not being taken seriously enough, and some not even acknowledged as being concerning at all. This blog is in 2-parts. Part 1 will look at ‘bringing the profession into disrepute’ in the context of social media. It is perhaps timely in view of Mr Hill’s recent effort of justification over the need to suspend retired dentist Mr Pate under the pretext of ‘protecting the public’. Part 2 will look at my concerns over conflicts of interests. Both will, as usual, look at this in terms of recent events and cases.
So my part 1 concern relates to a fellow dentist who is a Clinical Advisor providing early advice reports to the GDC and the material posted on the public stream of their Facebook page. Our regulator tells us that we must not post material on public media that may undermine public confidence or bring the profession into disrepute. On this public-facing social media page, there is a joke about a sexual act, several slang references to parts of male anatomy and masturbation, a profile picture that is potentially racially-offensive (depending on the generation of the particular panel that might be selected by the GDC), but the finest one has to be the picture which blames patients for their gum disease and tooth decay because they are “*insertslangformasturbators*’’. Yet this Clinical Advisor, wrote in an early advice report for the GDC that a dentist who communicated with a patient using Facebook Messenger, was unprofessional for doing so. This would be funny apart for the stress that the registrant was put under as a result of it being included in their initial allegations which contributed to the case being forwarded for a full hearing. There will be more of this to come in another blog.
I emailed the current Director of Fitness to Practise to ask him what he thought about the content on this Clinical Advisor’s Facebook profile page, and whether he felt it was appropriate for someone affiliated with the GDC. The GDC ought to know how their Clinical Advisor was behaving whilst giving potentially life-changing advice about other registrants’ professional conduct. Perhaps my tip-off might assist them in getting their own house in order after a run of bad hearing outcomes for them and at a time when the mood of the profession is resembling that at the time of the ARF debacle. At the time I had started to draft this blog I had not received any reply, and suspected that the GDC’s email filters might have kicked my email with its supporting attachments of profanities straight into their Spam Folder. I have now received my reply, so I will come back to that later.
On this particular issue of ‘unprofessional’ social media comments, 2 registrants recently received letters from the GDC reminding them of their need to uphold standards when using social media. They had both used an inappropriate word, albeit on a single occasion, on a Facebook thread and a helpful colleague had very kindly pointed this out to the GDC without raising their concerns with the group moderators or the registrants themselves. The digital evidence suggests that the anonymous informant was another registrant. In terms of the naughty word used, it was quoted ‘verbatim and in italics’ in the GDC letter. If the GDC think that word is inappropriate they ought not visit the Dr Rant page and see their ‘affectionate’ nicknames for Jeremy Hunt which are used on an almost daily basis. The GMC don’t seem to concerned however, but perhaps doctors do not refer each other to their regulator over spats and spite instigated on social media platforms.
Anyway, I felt pretty strongly that this particular display of conduct on social media referred to above really should not go unquestioned, all things being considered.
The Standards apply to all and this Clinical Advisor who is a fellow dentist, is held to the same standards as us all. No-one should believe that they sit above us mere-registrants, somehow ‘protected’ by a relationship with the GDC. A colleague has a four-month suspension for alleged religiously-offensive statements made visible only to other dental registrants, yet I found his comments less offensive that this advisor’s silly, misogynistic and sexist posts. Also, someone with the infantile mentality that is publically displayed arguably unfit to assess whether any other registrants’ behaviour is professional, surely.
Whilst waiting for my email to be replied, rather hilariously, another registrant got a letter from the GDC courtesy of another anonymous informant reminding them of their professional obligations, and advising them to take action so they too could be better behaved in the future. However, the letter gave no information on what was posted that caused offense or deserved some kind of GDC-referral retaliation. An SAR sent the GDC may well clear that one up in time.
Taking screenshots from Facebook and using them to make complaints to the GDC is a rather petty way to retaliate against another dental registrant in my opinion. Those doing it really need to take a long hard look at themselves, especially if they are in the subset of registrants whinging about our high ARF.
As it happens, the GDC Annual Accounts and Report show that by 2018, 9-10% of incoming GDC complaints (as per my little infographic below) currently arise from other registrants. This is a record year. Well done registrants!! Keep this rate of progress up and in a few years we might actually beat the patients.
So actually, never mind the GDC: we also need to get our own house in order here. Please can we all stop being so childish? If you don’t like what’s on Facebook, get off social media, leave the groups that aren’t to your taste or contain people you don’t like, block people who wind you up, or if what’s being said is about you is that bad, spend your own money on legal proceedings rather than wasting all our money artificially inflating the ARF telling tales by the use of screenshots. Still, it’s nice to see that the GDC has healthy reserves of £20 million against a back drop of a decreasing number of incoming complaints. Maybe this is in preparation for the day we achieve a level of 100% of complaints arising from all the back-stabbing and bickering going on between ourselves.
This is the problem with the ‘duty to report concerns’:
LEGITIMATE CONCERNS REPORTED TO THE GDC OFTEN END UP IN ONE OR MORE REFERRALS IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.
This is the sheer reality of the dire situation that faces us. The minute you act on a professional duty to raise concerns with the regulator, you are at risk that ‘concerns’ will be raised about you, and there will be GDC referrals all round.
But back to my email: I did get a reply regarding my Clinical Advisor issue. I was advised that I should use the online form to report the matter to the Initial Assessment Team.
It looks as though we are not the only group happy to throw dentists under the bus, which is always nice to know.
Very interesting and thought provoking blog. Is it possible to look at your dissertation, or if not could you be tempted to provide a brief overview of your findings? I would like to know more and am looking forward to part two.
I know that this is not the main thrust of your blog but note that the number of complaints has fallen by nearly 40% from the peak in 2014 and that although the percentage of complaints from registrants has increased, the number has decreased from a peak of 217 in 2014 to 172 in 2017. Is the number of complaints about use of social media increasing as it seems to be?
Many thanks for your comments. I have messaged you via GDPUK.
I am not sure if the complaints about social media specifically are on the rise, however this information may be available in the Annual Reports. I did request via an FOI all the cases which involved social media a while back, however I may well ask the GDC if they hold the information about the number of actual complaints involving social media, which I expect invariably all come in from registrants.
It would be difficult to establish a trend in terms of numbers, but I think that on reflection I am probably more interested in terms of the significance of social media. As norms change I find myself wondering how the profession is prepared for the immediate future. I was asked to give a postgrad presentation on the subject of social media in dentistry but could not make the date or think of an alternative presenter. I think that the dental team need to be more aware now.
Best wishes, Mike