Dentist Suicides: GDC Reply to Coroner: Masterclass in Deflection and Evasion

Dentist Suicides: GDC Reply to Coroner: Masterclass in Deflection and Evasion

As previously reported by GDPUK (linked here) a Coroner has strongly criticised the GDC following their investigation into the death of a dentist. As a result, she wrote a ‘Report to prevent future deaths.’

Katrina Hepburn, HM Central and South East Kent Coroner, began to investigate the death by suicide of a dentist in 2023. In her report she commented on the GDC’s practice of posting detailed allegations at the interim orders stage of proceedings. At this stage not only are the charges unproven, but they will not be fully evaluated, or have even reached the case examiners. Whether they are found to be ‘proven’ (on the balance of probabilities) must wait for a Professional Conduct Committee hearing, which does not take place for many months or even years.

The Coroner’s report published on August 15th 2023, concluded: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you, the General Dental Council, have the power to take such action.” As is mandated in such cases, a copy of the report was sent to the GDC, who were obliged to respond to it by October 11th

Those who have dealt with the GDC may already have predicted that their response would be sent on October 10th. The GDC with their familiar standards of transparency, have not referred to this case or their response, either in communications with registrants or on their website. It can, however be found on the website High Court - Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

After a brief “I should say at the outset of this response that it was with great sadness that we learned about the death of X particularly given the circumstances, and we send our condolences to his family” the GDC spend the next four pages saying very little. There is reference to “the work we have started regarding how we hear Interim Order applications and what information we then publish,” and then a long explanation of the GDC’s role and of the FTP process, and multiple links to its website. 

The letter goes on to say that: “we are aware that FTP matters take a long time to resolve, and we recognise that this can put considerable stress on registrants under investigation. We have a number of measures in place to support registrants within the FTP process, including the provision of a participant support officer who is available to provide advice and support to registrants and witnesses at hearings.”

The timeline of the case is then reproduced, although much of this was already covered in the Coroner’s report. With the entry for the month of the dentists death, the GDC add that: “We understand from your Report that in November X was dismissed from his employment and that December 2022 X approached his GP reporting anxiety and depression with fleeting thoughts of suicide since the loss of his job and the fitness to practice enquiries.”

“We were not aware of the information regarding X’s interaction with his GP and were not aware until much later that X had been dismissed by his employer.” This hardly shows the GDCs ‘participant support’ in a good light.

The GDC then get to the actual matter of the Coroner’s concerns.

In response to the Coroner’s specific criticism of the great amount of detail made public at such an early stage, the GDC’s argument is that this is to: “ensure public confidence in the dental professions and to ensure that those we regulate are clear as to when we might take action.” They then imply that the dentist’s defence team should have done more in regard of his vulnerable state: “It was not an issue which was brought up by X’s legal representatives at the review hearing.”

In their final two paragraphs, the GDC at last get to the part of the Coroner’s report headed: “Action should be taken”. In this she had written: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you, the General Dental Council, have the power to take such action.”

Apparently, according to the GDC, work had already been started, “to review the Guidance and Policy and reviewing our position in relation to holding hearings in public had already been started by our Policy Team prior to receiving your report. Following the sad news of X’s death and your report, this work has been prioritised.”

This may be something of a flex, since the GDC then say that the work is reviewing the policy in relation to the publication of outcomes of interim orders. They go on to say that, “the timeframe for the completion of this work depends on the outcome of the review," and that public consultation might be required, which will further add to the time taken.

In the event that it is considered desirable to change the rules, this will add further delay as this would require Privy Council and Parliamentary approval. Given all of these the delays and the GDC’s glacial pace of work, the final sentence: “we intend to complete the first stage of our review by early next year” is to all intents, meaningless.

An employment lawyer with experience of the UK dental scene offered a succinct summary of the entire GDC response: “We didn’t do anything wrong and anything we did do wrong is the fault of the legislation. But we’ll do a review just to confirm we did nothing wrong

Registrants wondering where their well-being ranks will see that while the GDC Chief Executive and Registrar’s name is fully redacted, that of the deceased dentist is not.

ConfiDental is a confidential listening ear and signposting helpline available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Whether you’re a dentist, dental hygienist, dental therapist, dental nurse or dental care student, ConfiDental is here to support you.

Our friendly volunteers are experienced dental professionals who will listen and guide you to the right place. If you’re in emotional distress or just need someone who understands to talk to, ConfiDental is here to help you through those tough times. 

If you need to, call them on 03339875158


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