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.
Once again the new patient charges have been announced for the NHS, and once again they have gone up far more than the amount dentists will get for their UDA’s. The third consecutive inflation-busting rise in patient charges means that an ever increasing number of dentists will find themselves as unpaid tax collectors for the government, with the added pleasure of having to continue to practice in a hostile environment where the threat of litigation and GDC involvement is ever present.
So what will it actually take for dentists to wake up and smell the coffee? Patients are paying an increasing amount for their care, and as they do so, direct their annoyance as ever to the dentists. Its unlikely that they will understand or accept the explanation given that the charges are in effect a taxation, as they are too closely linked to the provision of a service.
Why do many of the dental practices seem to forget that they are in truth independent contractors within the NHS, and as such only have to refuse to contract to the NHS in order to retake a degree of control of their own future once again? It can’t be that working within an NHS contract is too easy; we increasingly hear of the demands on the practitioner’s time to fulfil the contract requirements. This time of year is full of comments on social media about the increased flurry of activity in order to hit the UDA’s targets once again or suffer claw-back.
By raising the patient charges, the government is contributing less and less each year to the cost of dental provision. The population of the UK isn’t reducing, and the cost of providing dentistry isn’t either. But for less and less contribution the government is still dictating the terms of the contract, and dentists continue to accept it.
Will it actually take the government to raise the patient charge to £30 for an exam (whilst still paying £25 for the UDA) for dentists to realise that they would be better off just charging the patient £30 and sticking two fingers up at the government? Or is it the NHS pension that people are holding out for? Or the continued chance to pay an associate £10 per UDA when they are really getting £30?
Practice owners (and particularly the bigger practices and corporates) definitely have the whip hand here. I can remember the times when associates were few and far between. It appears that the reverse is now true in many areas of the UK (particularly in metropolitan areas), which allows the principal to reduce the unit price of a UDA paid to an associate. An increase in patient charges will likely bring a drop in the number of patients visiting practices, and in one fell stroke this will reduce the PCR, and reduce the chances of the UDA targets being met, and therefore a claw-back occurring. I know of many associates that are made liable for the gross amount of any claw-back due to their individual underperformance (rather than the net amount they have been paid per UDA). Add this to the NHS pension of the principal that is effectively enhanced by paying a smaller percentage of the UDA value, this hardly puts the principal under any immediate pressure to withdraw from the NHS system they are still aligned with. However, I suggest that it is now causing a much greater ‘Us and Them’ situation with associates than ever before.
So why is it ok to make money out of the associates and not charge the patients a decent amount for their care? Whilst a business has a duty to its shareholders and owners to keep its costs low, with the introduction of the minimum wage this means they don’t tend to be propping up their bottom line by charging their staff for the privilege. They tend to charge their customers for it with the increase in the charge for the product.
Unless you happen to be in a fixed price system…so the only way money can be made (let’s forget upselling to patients using the NHS as a way to get them in the practice for now) is by reducing the costs of the workforce and investment in the business. However the government expect more and more for less and less (look at the next round of orthodontic commissioning that is going on) and it becomes impossible to square the circle unless someone actually pays for it. That certainly isn’t going to be the government.
Given that some patients will not be able to afford the hike in charges does not mean that many others would not pay for a decent service if they had to. Surely having fewer patients (but of the sort that don’t sue and complain) that are being charged a fair amount for the service provided, with no third party dictating targets has to be better for the stress levels of both dentists and patients under their care?
Will it take associates to actually walk away from the profession and retrain? With the current environment of stress due to the GDC, threat of litigation, and the real time reduction in associate income, then this has never been more possible than it is now. And that will lead to a reverse in the associate market again, especially if the (currently unknown) effect of Brexit results in European dentists returning to their home countries – and who wouldn’t if it meant avoiding the GDC and Litigation!
So what will it take for the profession to see the light? That we need to realise the government would still wish to control us if they only contributed £1 in every £100 charged and only then will we react? Or do we need to remember that everyone who owns a practice is a private practitioner already and they should just tell the government:
There have been many episodes I’m sure we all know about where a colleague has done something that has been their eventual professional downfall. Examples like the well publicised cases of Joyce Trail and Desmond D’Mello are a demonstration of how a professional has destroyed their own career and reputation through their actions, whether it be an illegal act, or a dangerous one.
But none is more worrying then the Case of Bawa-Garba. I am sure you are all aware of this, but if not, very briefly this involved a junior paediatrician being charged and found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter due to the tragic death of one of her patients whilst under her care. However, what is unusual about this sentence is that it was not only a very short one, but also suspended; something that very rarely happens in a case like this. As is then the usual route of action, the doctor was referred to the GMC for the associated disciplinary hearing that comes with a conviction. The tribunal found that her fitness to practice was impaired, but allowed her to stay on the register. However, the GMC appealed this decision, and she was subsequently struck off by the High Court last week. Interestingly, an interim orders committee of the GMC suspended the doctor initially, which was overturned on appeal by the high court who ruled that even a serious criminal charge did not always mean that suspension was necessary or appropriate to protect the public.
As someone with a conviction for manslaughter, then one could always argue that a professional actually should not be allowed to practice their art on the public again, but there is case law that supports the more subjective approach that was taken in this case initially. But this case (without going into even more detail) is as much, if not more, of an indictment of the systematic failings of leadership and organisation inherent in the environment Dr Bawa-Garba was working in. That the tribunal found no impairment was significant, as the doctor had engaged in insight, and had placed her reflections on the tragic event on her e-portfolio.
And that is the problem.
By honestly reflecting on the events and committing them to the permanent record of her E-Portfolio, this allowed the GMC to use this reflection against Dr Bawa-Garba, and subsequently was part of the case that was successful against her. In effect, by complying with the requirements of the GMC, she has committed professional suicide by recording her reflections as required. It is fine to record ones reflections to show insight, but to then have them used against you is surely unfair. You would have to trust the regulator implicitly when committing your reflections to a permanent record, and the actions taken by the GMC will have served to destroy any trust that our medical colleagues would have had in their regulator. Given that the GMC has always seemed to be to be a more considered and pragmatic regulator than the GDC of late, then once can only wonder just what manner of jeopardy we will have to place ourselves under as a result of this ruling.
In one fell swoop, the GMC have removed the chance for professionals to show they have learnt from their mistakes and develop in a no (or low) blame environment (as indeed occurs in the aviation industry) and installed a culture of fear that I think even the GDC at its worst a couple of years ago would have struggled to create so effectively. However, with the new GDC rules on CPD and reflective analysis requirements that we now have, is there anyone amongst you that thinks that the same couldn’t possibly happen to dentists? Once a regulator has set a precedent, it is likely that they will all act in the same manner.
I suspect the GMC realise there will be a problem with personal reflection now, and given the release of a blog by the GMC on this issue at the weekend, this might be seen to confirm it. The amount of internet noise coming from the medical profession over this matter is significantly higher than anything we have been able to generate, and as a result one must hope that there is a higher likelihood of something significant developing over the next few weeks and months as a result of this case, something which hopefully will roll down to the GDC as well. Even Jeremy Hunt has raised concerns about this case and its unintended consequences.
Once cannot forget the tragedy of the death of a child in the case, but there has to be consideration of the bigger picture of how a ruling such as this will now probably affect the analysis of mistakes in healthcare that are needed to protect the public. Furthermore, unless the use of reflective writing is somehow protected, the use against us of our own insightful learning could be our eventual downfall.
The GDPR is a new set of rules which will apply to all organisations that collect or retain personal identifiable data from any European individual. The idea behind it is to standardise data privacy laws and mechanisms across industries, and to ensure that fundamental rights of individuals are protected in today’s increasingly data-driven digital economy.
6 Things you need to know now
It is extremely important that everyone in your dental practice is made aware of the rules surrounding the new data regulation. Preparing for the GDPR will require changes in the practice’s culture, which you should start to plan in advance of the May 2018 deadline. Keeping everyone informed will ensure that your practice follows the proper procedure, and the GDPR is handled with the utmost care.
Here are 6 steps that will help your practice prepare for the changes today.
Under the new regulation, dental practices will be required to keep a record of how and when the patient gives consent to store and use their personal data. Consent will need to be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. Consent cannot be inferred from silence or inactivity of the user.
Further requests for consent will need to be separate from other terms of engagement. In practical terms this means you will need to clearly explain to your patients what you are intending to do with their personal data.
It must be borne in mind that consent once given can be revoked, and it must be made equally easy to withdraw consent given.
The GDPR also introduces a requirement for parental consent. Where services are offered directly to a child, practices will need parental consent to process the data of under 16s.
To do list:
– Identify the categories of personal data processed within your practice.
– Consider the legal basis applicable to the processing of personal data within your practice, and make sure these grounds will still be complied with the GDPR.
– Where consent is relied on, check that it will be: freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous.
– Consider introducing processes to promptly honour any withdrawals of consent.
– Make sure you keep a record of consents given to demonstrate compliance.
Aside from the need to obtain consent, your practice will be under an obligation to ensure that the processing of data is fair and lawful. Also, appropriate information must be given to your patients as to how their data is to be used. This is normally done in the form of a privacy notice. The GDPR has a mandatory list of the information which must be given to patients where data is obtained directly or indirectly from them. You will be expected to explain to your patients what data relating to them will be collected, how it will be used, the purposes for which it will be used and how their data may be shared.
To do list:
– Get to know your data. Consider what information is being collected, who is collecting it, how and why it is being collected.
– Consider how the information obtained will be used and who will it be shared with.
– Consider what possible effect the information obtained could have on the patients concerned.
– Consider building a data catalogue (if you haven’t got one in place) and drafting a meaningful privacy notice.
There will be a significant change to records of processing activities. The GDPR does not distinguish between internal and external records anymore. Dental practices will now require only one kind of record: an on-demand internal record. A practice will be required to maintain records of the entire practice’s processing activities internally. Moreover, these will need to be available to supervisory authorities upon request.
To do list:
– Consider introducing a full compliance program for your practice incorporating features such as regular audits, HR policy reviews, and training.
You will be required to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) if the dental practice is:
– A public authority (except for courts acting in their judicial capacity) (Art. 37(1)(a));
– Carrying out systematic monitoring of individuals on a large scale (Art.37(1)(b)); or
– Carrying out processing of special categories of data or data relating to criminal convictions and offences on a large scale (Art.37(1)(c)).
Dentists providing NHS care will be regarded as public authorities. Thus, even a small NHS practice will require a DPO. It is anticipated that the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will be providing Data Protection Officers in primary care settings.
If you don’t want to recruit, it will be possible to appoint a single DPO to act for a group of practices, provided that a DPO is easily accessible from each establishment. Alternatively, you can contract the services out.
For those organisations to whom the requirements do not apply, they may still choose to appoint a DPO.
– Assess whether your practice is obliged to appoint a DPO.
– Consider who will be your DPO.
– Consider whether your practice should appoint an internal or external DPO.
– Compile information on data processing activities within the practice.
– Ensure that those to whom you have designated responsibility, their duties do not lead to a conflict of interests of their own role.
The rights of individuals under GDPR are the same as those under the Data Protection Act 1998 with a significant enhancement of the right to data portability. Under the GDPR, patients will have the right to receive the personal data which they have previously provided in a ‘commonly used and machine readable format’, and have the right to transmit that data to another controller. This information will need to be provided free of charge, thus removing the previous £50 subject access fee for dental records. This will apply only to data processed by automatic means, and not to paper files.
To do list:
– Consider whether the technical capabilities of your practice will comply with data portability requests.
– Make your patients aware of their right to data portability. Does your company send out e-bulletins and/or newsletters? Let your subscribers know by including a short paragraph at the end of the article.
Any practice in breach of GDPR can be fined up to 4% of annual global turnover (not profit) or €20 million – whichever is greater. This fine can be imposed for the most serious infringements, for example for not having sufficient customer consent to process data. The practice can also be fined 2% for not having their records in order, or for not notifying the supervising authority and data subject about a breach, or not conducting impact assessment. In the case of a breach, practices will be required to report the breach to relevant authorities within 72 hours. The practice will be obliged to give full details of the breach and offer proposals for mitigating its effects.
You should be preparing for the new requirements that will affect your practice. Considering the above steps in the context of your practice is the very first step you can take in order to prepare for the upcoming legal changes. Do not assume that you will be able to claim innocence through ignorance of the rules – the whole point of the GDPR is to keep your company better protected and able to deal with breaches in security. If preparation is approached in the right way, your practice will be well-prepared in time for the regulation coming into force, and your business will be secured for years to come.
We will be running a workshop on 22nd February aimed at dental practices to help them prepare for the new GDPR requirements.