The Department of Health and Social Care has published a consultation document, Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public setting out proposals for reforming the legislation under which each of the healthcare professional regulators operate, including the GDC. The consultation is very welcome – it is a big step towards achieving the legislative reform which is very much needed and which we have been pressing the Government to deliver for a long time.
Our ambitions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of dental professional regulation have long been constrained by limits on what we can do, imposed by the legislation under which we operate. The Dentists Act 1984, though subsequently amended, still has at its heart a legal framework which is approaching 40 years old. The main problem is that in many areas it is excessively prescriptive: the legislation is both very detailed and very slow and cumbersome to change. And that has very real consequences. It means that we cannot always adapt quickly to changing circumstances and that we can’t always respond flexibly and appropriately. This is a problem in several areas of our work, but particularly so in relation to fitness to practise where the rigidity of the rules doesn’t fit comfortably with the wide variety of circumstances we need to deal with.
At the core of the approach proposed in the consultation document, there would be much more scope for each of the regulators to set their own rules on the detail of how they operate, balanced by strengthening their transparency and accountability to ensure that those powers were used sensibly. There is a lot of detail in the consultation document about how that would work in practice, covering overall governance, education and training, registration, and fitness to practise.
While we very strongly support the overall approach, we will be looking carefully at the detail to make sure that we can achieve the best possible framework for dental regulation. We strongly encourage everybody with an interest in dental regulation to do the same and to respond to the consultation – it’s really important that the Government hears directly from the people and groups these proposals will most directly affect.
The consultation is open until 16 June. We have 12 weeks to reflect on and discuss the Government’s proposals, and we should all make the most of the opportunity. Changes implemented as a result of this consultation are likely to define the regulatory landscape for a generation, so it really matters that we all help the Government to get it right.
For our part, we are keen to hear and discuss views on the reform agenda through the consultation period, to make sure that in our own response to the consultation we are drawing on the collective insights and experience of dental professionals and their patients.