GDC: Will Change At The Top Change Anything?

GDC: Will Change At The Top Change Anything?

The news that Ian Brack is vacating his post as Chief Executive of the General Dental Council (GDC) after a stewardship of almost eight years turned a spotlight on the organisation and the role of its leadership.

Then, days after the news broke about Mr Brack, it emerged that following its annual review, the GDC was cutting its 2024 ARF by 10% for dentists by £69 from £680 to £621 and by £18 - over 15% - from £114 to £96 for dental care professionals.  Whilst making no commitments, the Council expressed a desire to ’hold’ the reduced ARF at this new level for the following year.

When the news broke that Mr Brack was leaving his post it did not state that he was ’retiring’. Nor, thankfully, did it allude to any health concerns which might have triggered a departure.

It’s therefore perfectly possible Mr Brack is leaving in order ’to spend more time with his family’. 

But whenever organisations make senior management changes, some will question reasons and timings and wonder if there have been ’behind the scenes’ debates about the regulator’s direction of travel?  It would be perfectly understandable if so; most organisations pause periodically for reflection, to take stock and ensure the team players fit the future plans. 

Whatever the reasoning behind Mr Brack’s departure and the organisation’s welcome discovery that it can reduce its membership fees, many registrants will be wondering if and how a new face at the top might trickle down to the dental shop floor and to what extent the leadership ’frames the delivery’ of the regulator’s service.

It’s no secret that the GDC does not enjoy a particularly cordial relationship with many dental professionals who resent having to stump up hundreds of pounds each year to an organisation that has the ultimate power to terminate their careers.  

Particular criticism is levied against the GDC for the long and protracted time it takes for investigations and hearings into ’fitness to practise’. Renowned for the stress these hearings put registrants under, they have, perhaps not surprisingly, even been implicated in tragic endings where clinicians resort to taking their own lives.

The GDC’s procedures have also been accused of having a perceived lack of urgency with regard to the processing of applications from overseas workers seeking to bolster our NHS workforce although the Council has recently taken steps to accelerate their management..

Then there are the findings of the Professional Standards Authority’s (PSA) into the GDC’s performance.  

The ’regulator’s regulator’, the PSA is a small, independent body, accountable to the UK Parliament.  It describes itself as an ’oversight body for 10 statutory regulators of professionals working in the Health and Social Care sector’ that ’promotes the health, safety and wellbeing of patients, service users and the public by raising standards of regulation and registration of people working in health and care’. 

Last December, in its review of the GDC’s 2021/22 performance, the organisation was found to have met sixteen out of eighteen ’Standards of Good Regulation’.  It fell short in the key areas of ’Fitness to Practise’ and ’Registration’.

The PSA’s next review will be published in December.  The PSA remains professionally tight-lipped about any early findings.  Will the GDC score full marks, 18/18, or will it remain stuck on 16/18?  It is to be hoped it will not be found to have additional shortcomings.  As the profession’s regulator, the GDC holds its registrants to the highest standards: they can expect the same in return.

So what difference, if any, will a new Chief Executive make?  GDPUK’s Publisher Tony Jacobs sought the opinions of Eddie Crouch, Chair of the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee.

Mr Crouch acknowledged Ian Brack was an executive who had ’steadied the ship’ following his appointment.  Mr Brack, according to Crouch, had  "always been someone that refers back to the regulations that the GDC operated under and adopted a fairly strong position on the inflexibility of those regulations. However various flexibilities seem to have been found at times, such as paying the ARF by instalments" Mr Crouch said. 

"Whilst the GDC has changed from 2016 there are still many things that the GDC needs to work on further, and someone new to take these on will be interesting for all registrants and stakeholders.

I think the Chair of Council inevitably has a big influence on the workings of the regulator and it was evident when Toby Harris gave a speech to last summer’s LDC Conference, this was a very different personality to his predecessor."

Mr Crouch also confirmed that "The BDA have had regular meetings with the GDC during my tenure as Chair and we have signalled what we believe the feelings of our members are and how we believe the GDC needs to continue to change. We will continue to do this with the GDC including whoever takes over as CEO. 

If the new appointee is someone the BDA can assist in changing the things we all would like, I guess we will have to wait and see, but that will not stop us trying to ensure regulation of the profession is fair to colleagues".

The profession now waits for the GDC to choose Mr Brack’s successor, all eyes watching for white smoke to emerge from the chimney at 37 Wimpole Street.  After all, how papabile the next incumbent is could colour relations between the profession and its regulator for years to come.


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