betrayal Betrayal by screenshot

I thought that I would mark my return to writing this blog by broaching a subject that has been annoying me (and I’m sure many others) more and more recently.

We have to accept that there are people who walk amongst us every day who are maybe not as deserving of our trust as they should be. It is inevitable that we will experience them both personally and professionally, and that they may not have the same understanding of ethics and morality as we do, and not have the same belief and value structures as we do. It is not necessarily an overt thing that can be observed in an individual, and as such, this trait has been utilised successfully (often by governments, corrupt or otherwise) throughout the years, especially at times of war and public unrest.

These are people who will betray you.

I refer mainly to the events of WW2 and the Cold War as being probably the most obvious known times of the incidence of betrayal. In both of these world events, people often found their lives and that of their families changed irrevocably by the actions of people they worked with or whom they lived amongst.

Such a culture of fear had been generated by the leadership of these countries that once normal people would revert to acting for their own protection, or to inveigle themselves with the regime in order to further themselves, by reporting neighbours, colleagues and even friends to the ‘authorities’. It came to the point that no-one could trust anyone, even members of their own families, for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing leading to extreme and often fatal outcomes. This sort of behaviour will always be present in society to some degree or another, so we should not necessarily find it unusual.

However, the reason I mention the above scenarios is because there is a sinister and similar thing occurring in dentistry today, which is acting to damage the profession hugely. It is creating an environment of distrust, a climate of fear, and preventing free speech and the raising of legitimate concerns about working conditions in dentistry.

I refer to the increasing use of what can only be termed as snitching. We all remember at school the odious type of person who had no qualms whatsoever dropping fellow schoolmates into trouble by running off to a teacher, usually trying to become some form of favoured individual. It’s the same as when you can’t fight your own battles and stand up for yourself and expect mummy or daddy to do it for you. The same thing is becoming much more of an issue in dentistry.

Some of it seems to be taking the form of the use of the ‘Screenshot’; when comments or opinions that appear on social media or the web are photographed and then used to report an individual to the GDC, or even to an employer. The use of anonymity seems to be no protection; I know of a situation that has been posted recently where a screenshot has been reported to a corporate as the anonymous poster revealed enough details for others to determine exactly which corporate was being talked about. This resulted in a potentially serious issue for the anonymous poster, when all they were doing was trying to draw attention to obvious issues (given the theme of many posts about corporates there appears to be very little smoke without fire).

I also know of a colleague who made some comments under his/her own name, only to have these screenshot by apparently someone well known in dentistry report them to the GDC for said comments, just because of a previous disagreement and some bad blood between them. Thankfully the GDC just issued a stock type of warning about social media to our colleague; but had it gone further it would have been interesting for the complainant as they would no longer have been anonymous, and we might have found out who it was.

So it seems that the GDC is now seen as a mechanism for some professionals to get revenge on one another by anonymously reporting one another. There are many satires that abound (on social media of course!) of associates being effectively threatened with being reported to the GDC when they have a disagreement with principals/corporate management, especially if they have departed under less than amicable terms with one another.

Isn’t that the same as blackmail? ‘Keep you mouth shut/do as you’re told/we’ll keep a high retainer or tell the GDC your dentistry isn’t great’? I’m sorry, but I fail to believe it is anything but blackmail. If a professional relationship has deteriorated to the point where people can no longer work together that is one thing: but to then threaten to report each other to our regulator is something I find reprehensible and without honour.

I am also aware of other cases where dentists are only too happy to push their colleagues ‘under a bus’ when they see dentistry that is perhaps a little suboptimal. In many of these cases there is a financial incentive to the first dentist to get the second dentist to pay for the work that a patient might not be able to afford. They then advise the patient to report the dentist to the GDC and/or take legal action. The first dentist seems to forget however their actions can misfire on them, as it is highly unlikely they are of such clinical prowess that they never do any suboptimal work themselves.

Now I’m absolutely not saying that we turn a blind eye to obvious problems that need to be reported to the authorities, and especially where there is a legitimate reason to suspect patient harm is occurring. This is where we DO have to take professional responsibility to our profession to report a colleague ourselves, but not get a patient to do it for us.

But reporting someone to corporate management because a valid concern is being raised and not listened to, and then someone just asking the advice of a hive mind? Using a social media policy as a mechanism to prevent free speech?

Having spies on social media is no different to not to being able trust your neighbours in the Cold War Soviet Union to not tell the KGB.

It certainly appears that the upper echelons of some corporate dental companies has little or no idea about what is actually going on at the tooth-face or if they do they just ignore it – which is probably worse), and they seem to forget fellow professionals will want to discuss with their colleagues these types of situations so that they don’t feel isolated, bullied, or even warn others off working in these places. It appears this lack of insight, coupled with unapproachable and inaccessible high level management leads to frustrations that are then exposed on social media. Personally I have no problem with this as it draws the profession’s attention to things that should be exposed if we are to retain our professional integrity and standing.

But to then use a social media policy to effectively gag a person reminds me of the saying ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’….

The same is true of those who screenshot and report to the GDC. Freedom of speech is still supposedly a right in this country, and whilst it is one that can have consequences if legal and moral boundaries are crossed, it is still the right of an individual to express themselves. In years gone by, many things would be said at dental gatherings and the pub hat might well have been contentious but said in the heat of the moment; however I don’t remember people standing around with recording devices or making shorthand notes to then use against somebody. It is however now so easy with modern technology to take a screenshot and send it merrily on its way to the GDC and watch the as the drama unfolds from a distance. When this is used as a form of revenge against a colleague for a business dispute or some form of personal disagreement, then it can only be described as the lowest of the low, especially given the draconian manner with which our regulator polices our profession.

And what about those dentists who advise that patients report their previous dentist to the GDC/Solicitors for less than the true professional reason of patient safety? Those who do it because they feel they are somehow superior and have never made a mistake themselves? There could be a multitude of reasons for such behaviour, including financial ones (and not those of the patient I hasten to add).

Have they themselves never tried their best with a patient only to realise they are quite possibly the most challenging and difficult patient ever who consistently misses appointments, and considered this might be a reason? If there is a real patient safety issue then they are obliged themselves to inform the GDC as this is part of our professional responsibility to one another in keeping the public’s faith in us. The fact they get the patient to do it must somehow make them feel they have absolved themselves of the guilt of dropping a fellow professional in it if their reasons are not completely pure and without bias.

I have to reiterate that I am not suggesting a closing of our professional ranks so that problems are never reported; what I am actually saying is that there are some in our profession who cannot and should not be trusted these days because of their own motives and that depresses me.

I sincerely believe these people do not have the same values as the majority of the profession, and are likely to be entirely self-centred and self-absorbed individuals with little insight or no into their own failings. We can only hope that karma eventually serves them a suitable outcome, and they too then find themselves hoist by their own petard at some point in the future. The French at the end of WW2 had a fairly direct way of dealing with collaborators and informants, so history does tend to suggest what goes around comes around for these people.

They are one of the reasons there is a climate of fear where the GDC is concerned, and the GDC will happily use these turncoats to justify the persecution of the profession, as it gives them the legitimacy to say we can’t be trusted to regulate ourselves.

They are one of the reasons that indemnity costs are increasing; because they sow the seed in the patients mind there is money to be made to correct their dental issues. They seem to forget they too are human and can also err… but then they would need insight to realise that, and to understand the GDC is not there to replace dealing with a matter face to face professionally.

They are the reason I sometimes feel ashamed to be a member of this once proud profession.

They are Pariahs.

[ And I bet someone screenshots this article :)   ]


Image credit - Dimitry B  under CC licence - modified.