GDC Forced To Reveal Furlough ‘Top-up” Email After Victory For Persistent Dentist

GDC Forced To Reveal Furlough ‘Top-up” Email After Victory For Persistent Dentist

The General Dental Council is to be forced to reveal details behind its decision to use its staff payroll budget to top up furloughed staff salaries in 2020.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has instructed the GDC to disclose a copy of  an email sent by the Chairman to colleagues on 27th April. 

Should the GDC fail to comply with the ICO office’s decision notice, the Information Commissioner could make written certification of the fact to the High Court, which could subsequently be dealt with as contempt of court.

The decision is a victory for Leeds dentist Dominic O’Hooley, who has been trying to get straight answers out of the GDC since the late Spring of 2020.

He complained to the ICO’s office in August 2020 about the regulator’s handling of his request.

The GDC originally withheld requested information, citing section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act to do so.

Dr O’Hooley was seeking answers on the GDC’s decision-making processes.

In addition to asking about the regulator’s decision to top-up furlough payments, he also submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for details on the GDC Council meeting held on 13th May in 2020, where the Council made the unanimous decision not to ‘revisit’ Annual Retention Fee.    

During the dental shutdown, there had been much support from dental professionals for either a reduction in the ARF or the introduction of an emergency Payment By Instalment scheme. The GDC failed to countenance either option at a time when many dental professionals were struggling financially.

The tale of the GDC’s top-up payments even made in into Private Eye in June 2020 and was also reported in GDPUK.

The ICO’s office decided that details of the Council meeting should be withheld in the public interest.

The Commissioner accepted that if information from the Council meeting were disclosed, Council members may be less forthright in challenging the GDC’s leadership. 

The ICO letter to Dr O’Hooley said “There is a strong public interest in preserving the ability of Council members to be robust and forthright in expressing opinions and debating options.”

“The interest in transparency has already been met by the information already in the public domain.”

With respect to the request for information on the decision to top-up furlough, payments, the Commissioner decided that ‘Public interest favours disclosure.”

The ICO considered that as the email to colleagues was written by the Chair of the GDC, he should “Therefore reasonable expect that his views will be more closely scrutinised and he should be robust enough to put forward his views anyway.”

“Whilst the email is framed as being the view of the Chair, in the Commissioner’s view, the actual content of this information is likely to represent, in practice, the “Corporate view of the GDC.”

The GDC has 35 days from May 27th 2021 to reveal Dr Moyes’ email, or face further action, although the regulator has the right to appeal.

 

 

 

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