When concerns are raised to the General Dental Council concerning a dentist’s fitness to practice, they have a legal duty to investigate the complaint. The GDC has authority to look into a dentist’s clinical ability, health, conduct or behaviour. The GDC cannot look into payment or civil disputes. Similar to the GMC, the GDC aims to provide protection for patients whilst still being fair to the dentists.
Any investigation into professional conduct can be an uncertain and stressful time for a dentist, this guide aims to provide a bit of clarity to dentists subject to these procedures. The main message from this guide is to advise dentists in this position not to panic, there are many stages at which your case can be dismissed and if the worst should happen our GDC specialists are here to help.
There are 5 stages to the DGC process. In an effort to improve transparency, at the end of each stage all interested parties will receive a letter outlining the decision and why that decision has been made.
Once a complaint has been made the case will be sent to the initial assessment team. This simply looks at the body of the complaint to decide if the GDC is the right body to deal with the case. For example, for a dispute relating to cost the GDC will not take the case further and a recommendation will be made to take the case to the courts. This assessment does not look into the merits of the case, only the subject matter.
The purpose of this stage of the investigation is to decide whether the case should proceed to the next stage. There is no determination as to whether the allegations made against the dentist are true.
It is at this stage that the dentist will be informed of the complaint and the relevant documents will be collected. This could include patient records or the dentist’s own health and psychological records or criminal records. A decision is aimed to be reached at this stage within 4 months of receipt of the complaint. The decision at this stage will be to either end the investigations or progress it to the next stage.
At this stage the dentist will be able to comment and then all the parties will receive a copy of the full bundle of paperwork to be considered, other than confidential information. The case examiners are then tasked with deciding whether to agree undertakings, refer the case to the practice committee or the interim orders committee.
If the case is referred to the ICO they can decide whether to place interim conditions or suspensions on the dentist until the case is heard in full. After the ICO the case will proceed to the practice committee.
This is a full enquiry usually held in public unless there is good reason to keep the proceedings private. The committee will hear the full information and take submissions from both sides of the complaint. Essentially the purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the dentist is fit to practice within the dental profession. The committee can deliver a number of sanctions, including the most severe of removing the
As with any proceedings the dentist has the right to appeal the decision. Details of how and when the appeal must be lodged will be sent to the dentist along with the decision letter. It is important that these deadlines and procedures are followed or the case will not be heard.