Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Memorandum by the General Dental Council (PS 14)


  1.  The General Dental Council (GDC) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Health Select Committee Inquiry into Patient Safety. We hope our comments are useful.


  2.  The GDC regulates dental professionals in the UK. We regulate the whole dental team, over 88,000 individuals, whether they provide dental care privately or through the NHS. All dentists, dental hygienists, dental therapists, dental nurses, dental technicians, clinical dental technicians and orthodontic therapists must be registered with us to work in the UK.

  3.  Patient safety is at the heart of everything we do. We work with the public and the profession to protect and promote patient safety through effective regulation of dental professionals in the UK. We regulate dental professionals throughout their professional life by:

    —  assuring the quality of dental education

    —  registering qualified dental professionals

    —  setting standards of dental practice and conduct

    —  ensuring professionals keep up-to-date through CPD

    —  helping patients with complaints about a dental professional

    —  working to strengthen patient protection

  More information about our work can be found on our website


  4.  All patients are entitled to high standards of professional and personal conduct from those who provide their dental care. We provide guidance on the standards dentists and dental care professionals should live up to. When someone registers with us they are committing to upholding these standards.

  5.  We are committed to making our guidance clearer and more relevant to all our registrant groups. One way that we have sought to do this is by providing clarity on the scope of practice of dentists and dental care professionals. In 2007 we set up a special working group to define the skills that each professional group should have at the point of qualification, the skills each group may develop throughout their career, and the skills which should be "reserved" to particular groups. We will be publishing new guidance setting this out towards the end of 2008, following a wide-ranging consultation exercise.


  6.  The vast majority of dentists and dental care professionals value, and adhere to, high professional standards and deserve the trust the public puts in them. But some do not and then we have to ask: is the person "fit to practise"?

  7.  Our role allows us to take action when a dental professional's ability, behaviour or health makes them unfit to practise. If we hear about concerns that a dental professional is falling short of our standards, and may not be fit to work as a dental professional, we will investigate. If the situation is serious enough, we can restrict or remove their right to work in the UK.

  8.  We work with primary care trusts, local health boards, other regulatory bodies and other referring bodies to ensure the appropriate action is taken when patient safety is at risk due to the actions of a dental professional.


  9.  Patient safety can be compromised by illegal dentistry. We investigate allegations of illegal dentistry and, where appropriate, we prosecute. Our concern with illegal practice is focused on patient protection: illegal practice is unregulated, and takes place outside the network of systems and processes (including professional regulation, clinical governance and redress systems) which work together to protect patients.

  10.  There is no legal onus on us to prosecute, but we do—against, for instance, dentists who have been struck off or removed from the register but continue to practise, unregistered dental technicians who are working clinically, and beauty salons that offer tooth whitening. In 2007 we successfully prosecuted three individuals, one of them on two separate occasions.


  11.  We have a role in quality assuring dental education. We approve new courses and carry out inspections of GDC-approved courses.

  12.  Patient protection is paramount in our quality assurance work. If a training course does not meet our requirements, we turn it down. But we give guidance on where it falls short, so training providers can reapply for approval.


  13.  We are holding a public conference on 1 October. We will use this opportunity to ask the public their views on their expectations of dentistry, dental professionals and regulation. The views from this event will be used to develop our corporate strategy and to strengthen our role in protecting patients.

  14.  We now regulate every member of the clinical dental team. That in itself is a tremendous step forward for patient protection. Rolling out compulsory continuing professional development to everyone on our registers, developing a scheme for "revalidating" dental professionals, clamping down on unregistered people who perform tooth whitening and other dental procedures illegally—always our concern is to strengthen the protection we offer patients. We will continue to do so.

September 2008

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