As 2022 started we continued to experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had made adjustments to how we worked, with hybrid working and virtual hearings becoming commonplace.
Rising inflation added additional pressure over the summer period, when the Council consulted on and developed its Corporate Strategy for 2023 – 2025. Extensive stakeholder engagement informed our strategic ambitions as we developed our Costed Corporate Plan. The Annual Retention Fee (ARF) we announced was also lower than we indicated when we consulted on it.
If high inflation is sustained, we may need to increase the level of the fee in 2024 and 2025 but any such increase will, at most, be in line with the rate of inflation at the time, or as a result of other exceptional and unanticipated circumstances.
Throughout the year we monitored our planned activity to determine whether we continued to deliver our statutory purpose, maintaining patient safety and public confidence. This was challenging and the delivery of some of our statutory processes was simply too slow in 2022. The paramount causes of this were shortfalls in staff capacity and capability. We experienced high levels of sickness as pandemic restrictions were lifted, disrupting our work, and we were also struggling with high numbers of vacancies as staff left the GDC and we continued to encounter significant difficulties in promptly replacing them. We took action to address this and over the year, dealt with the staff shortfalls but the staff we recruited are, of course, less experienced in the GDC than those they replaced.
Notable deliveries in 2022 included the launch of the Dental Professionals Hearings Service, to further highlight the independence of the hearings function from our investigation and prosecution functions and to improve the experience for all who attend a hearing. We consulted on proposed changes to learning outcomes and behaviour expectations for education and training programmes leading to registration, introducing the term ‘safe practitioner’ to describe newly qualified dental professionals.
Back-office systems are critical to our operational effectiveness and efficiency. We completed the work to replace our finance system, with the new system going live in early January 2023, and continued to improve and upgrade our IT and telecommunications infrastructure.
Reform of legislation governing international routes to registration moved a step closer when the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published the outcome of the public consultation on its proposed changes to the legislation and started the parliamentary approval process.
However, while removing the overly prescriptive constraints is a vital first step to creating a more effective registration system, the new powers come into effect 12 months after the legislation is laid and we will need time in 2023 and beyond to develop new approaches, carry out the required consultation on new rules and follow mandatory process to procure the supply of necessary services.
In the absence of wider regulatory reform, we increased our efforts to improve our fitness to practise processes and systems within the current legislation. We had already increased the capacity of our fitness to practise casework team and in 2022 we modernised preliminary meeting guidance, changed the process for making admissions at the start of the preliminary hearing, introduced flexible listings for hearings and consulted on proposed new guidance for Interim Order Committees. Each change may be small but, cumulatively, they will make people’s experience better in what we know is a stressful and adversarial process. As part of delivering the commitments from our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Strategy 2021-2023, we published new data about the protected characteristics of those dental professionals on our registers who had provided this information, leading to a reliable breakdown of fitness to practise cases by EDI characteristics, including ethnicity.
Assuring the quality of education and training programmes which lead to registration as a dental professional is essential to ensuring that patients are safe. During the academic year August 2021 – July 2022 we granted approval to four new programmes, quality assured six dental care professional education providers and six awarding organisations through monitoring, and carried out targeted monitoring of 15 bachelor of dentistry and 15 dental hygiene and therapy programmes.
We were pleased to welcome Ilona Blue as a new lay member of the Council in April 2022, following an open and competitive recruitment exercise. She replaces Crispin Passmore who had resigned in December 2021.
Finally, we would like to thank the GDC’s Council Members, associates and staff for continuing to make progress on our priorities in a challenging year and dental professionals for delivering dental services and keeping patients safe.
Chief Executive and Registrar