Eleven Months Later, GDC Act On Coroner's Serious Concerns

Eleven Months Later, GDC Act On Coroner’s Serious Concerns

Two days before a general election the GDC have quietly announced a change to one much criticised aspect of their Fitness to Practice process.

Interim Orders Committee hearings and reviews hear untested allegations. This is because their role is to assess risk, and not to determine if the allegations against the registrant are true. Despite this the Committee can impose restrictions on a dental professional’s registration, including immediate suspension. Regardless, until now, those untested allegations have been published in considerable detail on the GDC website. This will now change.

The GDC’s Dental Professionals Hearings Service will no longer publish determinations made by the Interim Orders Committee. Instead, the outcome will be published on their website after a hearing or review has taken place. This will include any action taken to protect the public, patients, or dental professionals. As before, any restrictions imposed on registration will be added to the online register. 

Theresa Thorp, GDC Executive Director, Regulation, said: “By limiting publication to the outcomes and any restrictions on a dental professional’s registration, we aim to maintain public safety and confidence while minimising negative effects on dental professionals while fitness to practise matters are investigated. This change in policy recognises that allegations are untested at an Interim Orders Committee hearing or review because its role is to assess risk and not to determine the facts of a case.” 

It is regrettable that it has taken the GDC so long to accept this, but Theresa Thorp deserves recognition for following up the familiar GDC protestations that they recognise that fitness to practise investigations can be intrusive and stressful for registrants, with meaningful action.

All previously published Interim Order Committee determinations have been removed from the website and replaced with the outcome of any hearing or review. In those cases where no order is imposed by the Interim Order Committee the outcome will be published for one month and then removed. 

The GDC have said that there may be instances where it is necessary in the public interest or in the interests of the dental professional or other parties concerned for the Registrar to apply discretion to this policy. However they expect this to be a rare occurrence.

The change is said to be part of the GDC’s, “ongoing commitment to reduce the negative impacts of the fitness to practise process on dental professionals’ health and wellbeing.”  

It also follows a Coroner strongly criticising the GDC following their investigation into the death of a dentist. As a result, she wrote a ‘Report to prevent future deaths.’ as reported here.

Following their investigation into the death by suicide of a dentist in 2023, the Coroner criticised the GDC’s routine posting of detailed allegations at the interim orders stage of proceedings.

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.” The GDC, were obliged to respond to it by October 11th 2023.

Initially the GDC replied defensively and while it has taken many more months, it may be a sign of positive change, that they have at last done the right thing.

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