No Time To Talk - The GDC and GDPs

Lord Toby Harris

For far too long, relations between dentists and their regulator have been fraught, to say the least.

This may be a situation that in practice suits the GDC very well, but appearances matter. In November last year, the General Dental Council [GDC] revealed the results of some research that it had commissioned. The aim was to ascertain dental professionals’ views on the GDC. It would be very reassuring for GDC leaders to be able to demonstrate that criticism of the regulator comes from a small and unrepresentative section of the profession. The results did not fit that narrative, indeed the GDC, experiencing a moment of insight, commented that the findings “don’t make comfortable reading.”

As reported on GDPUK at the time, negative perceptions of the GDC had actually risen from a bad 45% in 2018, to a worse 58% in 2020. To add to an already grim picture, responses also showed that over time, an increasing number of respondents felt that the GDC was actually getting worse. The finding that “students were more likely than dental professionals to associate positive words with the GDC”, could be said to offer evidence that the more dental teams came into contact with the GDC, the less they liked it.

By the GDC’s standards a veritable charm offensive followed, with Chief Executive Ian Brack and Executive Director Stefan Czerniawski explaining how they would be working to improve matters. It was announced that the recently installed Chair, Lord Harris, was starting his term by meeting key stakeholders. With the vast majority of UK dental care delivered in general practice by general practitioners and their teams, an outsider might expect that this would be reflected in some of this activity.

Since taking over from Bill Moyes, Lord Harris has written four blogs for the GDC which have been sent with its periodic emails and are also available on its website. In his first blog there was indeed reference to meeting some of those key stakeholders. He had met the English CDO, as well as the BDA, BADN and SBDN and been at the launch of the College of General Dentistry. He went on to express the view that “professional regulation is a privilege”.

By the time of his next blog Lord Harris had met the CQC and HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) and was looking forward to meeting COPDEND and the Dental Schools Council to discuss education. He added that his belief that we should see (presumably the GDC’s) regulation as a benefit, had been reinforced.

The third blog announced a programme between January and April of meeting students and trainees which would be an “opportunity to hear from students in the early stages of their dentistry careers.” There was also a section about the benefits of regulating the whole dental team. He added that he would “continue to meet representatives of the dental professions in the next few months”

The beginning of February saw publication of the fourth blog. Lord Harris had now met with Healthwatch, and rightly pointed out that “understanding the views of patients and the public is critically important”. “However” he added, “the GDC also wants to engage with people at the start of their career in dentistry”.  They had met nearly 400 students and trainees, representing dentists, hygienists, and therapists, and were “finding them helpful to build understanding of our role and hear from members of the future dental team”.

GDP’s are trained to be observant, so readers will have spotted by now that in relation to the amount of care delivered, they barely register on Lord Harris’s radar. There was also a focus on those younger team members who the GDC’s own survey had revealed, were the group with a less poor opinion of the GDC.

Following publication of Lord Harris’s fourth blog, GDPUK contacted the GDC’s communications team with an enquiry about the Chair's meetings with GDPs and related groups. To provide some context, emails to the Department of Health and NHS England on the day of the 50 million dental funding were all answered within a couple of hours. If a respondent was unable to help they suggested a suitable colleague. It did not take long to get an answer that specifically dealt with each section of our request. GDPUK also asked the BDA about meetings with Lord Harris. A comprehensive reply came within 90 minutes.

With absolutely no response from the GDC, a follow up email was sent the next day. With the same result. After 3 emails sent on separate working days, and not even an acknowledgement, a colleague who has had similar difficulties provided an alternative contact to the one on the GDC’s website. Finally, a response confirming that our emails had been received came within a couple of hours, and not long after this, another GDC official provided their response to our enquiry. The Chair would appear to have had a busy diary which will continue over the coming weeks with many meetings. The most GDP related one to add to those in his blogs would appear to be the Association of Dental Groups (ADG). Scheduled were meetings with professional bodies including hygienists, therapists, dental technicians and dentists as well as indemnifiers.

To be fair to the GDC, when a subsequent enquiry was sent, it was responded to the following day.

GDP’s may be left wondering whether following last years uncomfortable feedback, the GDC’s chosen approach to them is one of engagement, or quarantine.

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