At the beginning of 2020, we had recently launched our new corporate strategy, Right time, right place, right-touch and for the first time published our planned activity for the year in our Costed Corporate Plan 2020. Between them, they set our ambition for the year, underpinning our primary objective of public protection by delivering efficient and effective dental professional regulation.
In the early part of the year, we made good progress. We successfully completed the final stages of our estates programme following the move of some functions to Birmingham and the opening of our new Hearings suites in London and held our second Moving Upstream conference in February. Work across the full range of our activities was also continuing as planned.
However, as we began to understand the significance of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, including the UK going into its first national lockdown, and the effect this had on the provision of dental services across the UK, our workload, plans and priorities changed significantly.
Our first priority was to protect the delivery of our core statutory functions, which cannot be stopped. But we also had a duty of care to our employees and to individuals who attended GDC offices, for example in relation to hearings. We moved very rapidly
to implement remote working wherever possible, with most of our staff working from home. We also ensured that our offices were fully COVID-secure, so that essential work which depended on physical presence could continue.
And as we responded to the pandemic, Council had to re-evaluate our plans for 2020 to take account of the impact it was having. This meant that some work accelerated, some stopped; and new work, not in the original plan, was added.
Despite these changing priorities we still delivered much of what we had originally set out to do during the year. This included continuing to process all the new applications to join the GDC registers and ensuring that the fitness to practise activity continued throughout the pandemic, including holding remote hearings when we were unable to hold them physically. We also accelerated the planned rollout of software to support collaboration and remote working that helped improve our effectiveness and efficiency, moved all of our engagement activity online, including our student and foundation dentist engagement programmes, and completed our review of dentists’ preparedness for practice, which considered whether the expectations of a safe beginner were appropriate and understood.
Due to the reduction in routine dental care, practical training and experience for dental students was significantly impacted. We had to work closely with education providers to ensure that students due to qualify in 2020 were able to complete their final year of training and reach the required standard. We have continued to work with them to understand and quality-
assure the plans they have in place to enable students graduating in 2021 to complete the required level of practical training and to join the register as safe beginners.
In parallel with responding to the pandemic, we also had to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period. This was particularly challenging as many of the details were not known until the last few months of 2020. This work continues in 2021 as we ensure our routes to international registration protect the public in the UK’s new international context and work with the Government to introduce the necessary legislative changes.
As is the case every year, the GDC reviewed the Annual Retention Fee (ARF). In 2019, Council had reduced rates for the ARF for both dentists and DCPs for a three-year period and decided to maintain those rates at the planned levels, despite the very high uncertainty around our costs and the risks of reduced income because of the pandemic. More recently, we have announced the introduction of a payment scheme for dental professionals who pay their own ARF to spread the cost over the year with quarterly Direct Debits.
Towards the end of the year, these challenges and changes led us to review our Corporate Strategy to ensure that it was still relevant to the changing strategic context. Our core objectives are set out in our legislation - to protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public, and to uphold professional standards and confidence in the dental team. Following the review, Council decided to revise and simplify the wording of our five strategic aims, though their intent remains unchanged. It did this to clarify our approach and to demonstrate how we are adapting to the new context of dental care and public protection.
As we look forward from 2020, it is clear that COVID-19 has had a profound effect on patients and the public, as well as the professions. That effect is likely to be long-lasting. It is probable that access to services will continue to be a challenge, and we expect the way dental services are delivered in the future will change. We are already seeing signs of these changes, with the use of new technology and channels accelerating throughout the pandemic, particularly in the provision of remote dentistry. As the regulator, we will support innovation which improves oral health, subject to the overriding need to ensure public safety.
We also hope to see progress being made on regulatory reform for the healthcare regulators. The events of 2020 have brought out even more clearly the need for a more modern and flexible legal framework to support effective regulation. We welcome the recent consultation on reform principles and will be urging the Government to bring forward detailed proposals for the modernisation of GDC’s governing legislation at the earliest opportunity.
Throughout this period of uncertainty, we have had to plan for and cope with the unexpected. This has been challenging at times and has impacted some areas of our operational performance, as has been the case for almost all health regulatory bodies. We have learned from this and are applying those lessons to ensure that the GDC remains well placed to address and respond to the issues that will arise in the next few years.
Finally, we would like to thank all Council members for their continued work and support over the last 12 months and express our gratitude to the GDC’s staff and associates, and to the dental professionals we regulate, for their efforts in achieving so much positive change during this challenging year.
Dr William Moyes
Chief Executive and Registrar