So, the GDC's big consultation on its three-year strategy has been and gone. We'll know more about the responses and final decisions in October. Here are a few thoughts highlighting the BDA's views
submitted last month.
1. Some promising ideas
After many years of difficulties between the profession and its regulator - the issues around mismanagement of finances, the unlawful consultation followed by a massive ARF hike for 2015 and a perceived lack of engagement and direction, we now appear to be in a more positive period, and we feel the GDC is now reaching out and trying to work with us. There were some promising ideas in this document, many of which can and will be supported.
For example, the GDC said it wants to empower dentists to be able to make clinical decisions without fear of being hauled in front of a FTP hearing, and it has been engaging with us, including inviting reps from the Young Dentists Committee to discuss how we can move forward with many of our issues around fear and defensive dentistry.
2. A need for more transparency
However, there are still quite a few things in their latest strategy that we don't feel have been fully explained (particularly in terms of how funds will be spent) – we feel the GDC is not being totally transparent about this, and therefore it's hard to see if they are being accountable.
It is the registrants (i.e. you, the dentist) who bear the cost of their regulator – so we feel it's truly important that funds are being spent as effectively as possible. We can't make a judgement on whether they are spending funds wisely, if the plans on how to spend them have not been fully detailed.
3. The GDC should not focus on workforce planning
One other main concern for us is the idea that GDC should in any way influence the selection of those applying for dental education and training. This is a role for the higher education sector and employers (for non-clinical DCP roles), not one of a regulator.
The GDC says it wants to 'deliver improvements to the structure of education and training systems in the UK' – we are concerned about this, as the GDC currently only has statutory powers to quality assure both undergraduate and specialist dental education. It has no remit work with the 'structures' of how the education providers deliver education, and we don't believe it should, and our fees should not be used to fund this type of activity.
This is workforce planning, and the responsibility, we feel rightly, lies elsewhere.
4. Tackling the issue of fear for younger dentists
Around the issue of preparedness for practice after undergraduate training, we do agree that things need to change. On the YDC we've been hearing stories of newly-qualified dentists who don't feel fully prepared to make the jump from training into practice, and that they are so terrified of doing something 'wrong' and facing patient complaints, that they are almost frozen by terror.
This is something we are very concerned about. We all know that it is indeed quite a different world once you step into practice after university, but our young dentists need to feel confident in their basic skills and feel ready to take on new challenges in a supportive environment. We have been discussing this issue with the GDC, but we don't always feel they have shared their evidence base for their plans, and we would have liked to have been involved at a much earlier stage of work that appears to be ongoing.
This feels like the crux of our problem. It may be that the GDC may not always like what we have to say or find that some of the problems will end up in the 'just too hard' pile. But they have to hear us, after all we are the ones on the ground, dealing with the challenges and issues of working in the GDC's regulatory framework.
We are also pleased the GDC has been engaging with students and has said it will roll out this process more widely, but unfortunately this has little presence in the strategy going forward, and, again, has no costings or detailed information included.
We feel this is an oversight, as we would really welcome being more involved in this work and feel our YDC and Student Committee could also give valuable insight and support for this work.
5. Supporting dentists to be the best they can be
Every dentist I have ever spoken to wants to do the best job they can. And you find that dentists are generally, perfectionists. To get into dental school, you have to be a high-achiever, have ambition and be 100% focused on what you want to do.
And patient satisfaction levels with dentistry bear this out – the monthly
NHS England Friends and Family Test figures for dentistry remain high – in June, we got 97% satisfaction rate, on a par with maternity services, and above GP and A&E services.
It is good to see that they are intending to change their strapline – from the antagonistic "protecting patients, regulating the dental team" to "Working with the dental team for public safety and confidence" or a similarly co-operative wording.
There is a lot of work going on at the GDC which potentially could be very positive for the future – but without better, clearer information on its plans and full involvement of the profession at every stage, it is difficult to see how trust can reach a level that really symbolises a partnership between the regulator and the profession. There is more work to do on that front.
Our regulator, rightly, is looking out to protect patients from serious issues of harm and to try to avoid issues from arising through the 'upstream' approach. But we'd argue the best way to do this is to work with the profession, helping us to be the best we can be, and for that to happen, we need to be sure that the GDC provides full transparency about its activities, their necessity, and their cost.
Nikki Patel, Chair
Young Dentists Committee
Improving working lives for younger dentists
We support dentists at all stages of their careers and our
Young Dentists Committee
GDPC Associates Group
aim to be the voice of those starting out in dentistry and those mid-career.
They work on a range of issues, including pay and conditions, education and training, career pathways, the impact of dental regulation and stress in the profession, and dental health and science issues.
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