Dental Protection Urges GDC To Ensure The Wellbeing Of Registrants Undergoing FTP Investigations, As Concerns Persist Over ‘Suicide Figures’

Dental Protection Urges GDC To Ensure The Wellbeing Of Registrants Undergoing FTP Investigations, As Concerns Persist Over ‘Suicide Figures’

Dental Protection is urging the General Dental Council to ensure that the impact of Fitness to Practise investigations on the wellbeing of registrants is reduced.

Dental Protection (DP) was responding to the GDC’s consultation on its strategic plan for the next three years.

While DP welcomes the regulator’s second strategic aim to ‘ensure concerns are addressed effectively and proportionately to protect the public,’ the indemnity organisation has said  “proportionality is also integral to the wellbeing of registrants.”

Dental Protection’s press release came as the GDC is investigating data it potentially holds on registrant suicides and FTP investigations.

In July, GDPUK reported that following a Freedom of Information request by a consultant orthodontist, the GDC revealed that reference to suicide was found 6,753  times on the regulator’s database.

The GDC initially turned down an FOI request from Dr Farooq Ahmed when he asked the regulator to provide the number of registrants who had taken their own lives while under Fitness to Practise investigations.

But after Dr Ahmed questioned the GDC’s response to his important request,  a letter to him from the regulator seen by GDPUK said that after adopting ‘an alternative way of extracting the information,’ the GDC  had carried out a document search on its database, using the search term ‘suicide.’

That search provided 6,753 results.

The GDC’s letter went on “Although the number appears high we should consider the word ‘suicide’ would potentially appear several times in documents for each case. Also it would also include threats of suicide or relate to third parties. There may also be occasions where the GDC would be unaware, such as long after the FTP instigation or the suicide being unrelated to the proceedings.”

When GDPUK asked the GDC in August for an update on the progress of its investigations, it merely reiterated its July statement.

A GDC spokesperson said “We want to provide clarity on this important issue, but the information we currently hold is not sufficiently complete or robust for us to be confident in sharing in its current form.”

“We are already looking into what is possible, but this is not straightforward and there are important issues to explore in terms both of the quality and consistency of the data we hold and of the ethical issues around its collection and publication.”

“We look forward to providing an update on this work as it progresses.”

On dental social media, many registrants have expressed their concern at the figures the GDC released and GDPUK believes many within the regulatory organisation also share the disquiet over the initial results from the database search.

Dr Leo Briggs, deputy head of the Dental Defence Union told GDPUK “Fitness to Practise proceedings can be one of the most stressful experiences for any dental professional. The welfare of all our members is a paramount concern for us, and we want the GDC to show sensitivity for vulnerable registrants undergoing a GDC investigation.”

“Members of the dental team have a right to transparency from their regulator, and we continue to work closely with the GDC to try to ensure they can deliver this.”

A spokesperson for the the Medical and Dental Defence Union Scotland told GDPUK “It is important to note that whilst there are a number of dental registrants who die by suicide during an investigation, it is rarely the investigation that is the sole cause.”

“However, we are urging the GDC to manage investigations promptly, effectively and proportionately because in our opinion, their investigations at the moment are taking far too long. This can only add to the stress for the respondent dentist or DCP.”

Dr Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection told GDPUK “There have been calls from across the profession for the GDC to be more transparent about the number of dentists and dental care professionals who die by suicide while under investigation.

“Day in day out we see how investigation processes impact on the professionals’ mental health, alongside the effects on their family and career.”

“Fitness to practise investigations often take several months - and sometimes years - to conclude. A hearing itself can last several days if not weeks, and press can attend and report on the case throughout which can create long term reputational damage and a sense of shame for the dentist. Consequently, the whole experience can be traumatic irrespective of the outcome.”

“The GMC (General Medical Council) has moved to publish more information about the number of doctors who die by suicide while under investigation and has also made improvements to its processes in recent years in order to reduce the impact of investigations on doctors’ wellbeing and mental health. While this work is far from complete, this does show that progress is possible and we would welcome similar action being taken by the GDC.”

“Dental Protection’s multi-disciplinary team, which includes dentists and in-house lawyers are on-hand to support members in navigating the investigation processes and provide a robust legal defence. Members who experience work-related stress or stress that could affect their practice can also access our 24/7 confidential counselling service.”

Speaking with regard to Dental Protection’s  call on the GDC to ensure their strategic aim considers registrant wellbeing and helps to address the level of fear that exists among dental professionals regarding a GDC investigation, Dr

Rattan said “We agree that driving improvements to ensure the public’s concerns are addressed effectively and proportionately should be one of the GDC’s main strategic priorities. Dental Protection would like to work with the GDC on this aim, in particular on the desire to move towards a system which resolves complaints with only the most serious being dealt with as a fitness to practise investigation.

“Proportionate use of powers is integral not only in protecting the public but in protecting the mental wellbeing of registrants who may find themselves being the subject of a complaint to the regulator. We believe that reducing the stress of a fitness to practise process is a key tenet of the GDC being perceived as fair and proportionate and therefore should form a key part of this strategic aim.

“The level of fear that exists amongst dental professionals regarding the GDC is concerning. In a recent survey of early career dentists nearly a third told us they worry about a GDC investigation always, most of the time, or frequently. Fear does not support a culture of openness and learning; something all healthcare professionals should seek to foster. In respect of the GDC, this fear appears to stem principally from the fitness to practise process.”

“We appreciate the GDC is making improvements in this area, but we hope more can be done. For example, we believe the GDC could explore how initial contact is made with a registrant to reduce the stress from what will always be an unpleasant letter to receive. A review of its style guide, perhaps considering best practice across regulators, could also be implemented as part of its strategic aim.”

“While we understand certain legal information must be imparted to registrants, the tone and language of some written communications can cause unnecessary distress, overwhelm, and impact on mental wellbeing. Tone and language are also useful tools in creating a sense of proportionality.”

“We would welcome the opportunity to work with the GDC to enable further progress in this area.”

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