My second term as Chair of the GDC ends on 30 September, and so this is my last blog post.
In 2013 I joined an organisation in grave difficulties - financially, strategically and managerially. The number of fitness to practise complaints had more than doubled in the previous four years and the rate of increase showed no signs of tailing off. The decision to meet the associated costs by running down the financial reserves left the organisation too financially weak to make the investment required to improve our operational performance in key areas such as processing fitness to practise cases. So, the early part of my first term and that of my newly-appointed Council was challenging to put it mildly.
The decision to raise the Annual Retention Fees was difficult, but it was right. By taking steps to strengthen our finances, the Council was able to make the changes in personnel, policies and processes that were necessary to improve our performance. I remain proud of the work we have done to restore good governance, improve business planning and exercise financial control.
Difficult decisions are seldom popular. We understand that. In deciding whether or not to take a particular decision my test, and that of my colleagues on the Council and in the Executive team, has always been whether the decision is likely to improve the protection of patients and the public or to strengthen their confidence in dental services in the UK. This is our overriding statutory duty. It is not the GDC’s role to support the dental professions. This is the job of the Government or the representative bodies. That remains poorly understood within the profession, which has at times caused unnecessary friction between the regulator and the regulated.
Our revised strategy emphasised what we termed 'upstream regulation' – referring complaints to the NHS for local resolution when the complaint, although serious to the patient, did not raise concerns about the registrant’s fitness to practise. This, plus the introduction of a triage system to assess allegations quickly, is ensuring that the full fitness to practise regime is not applied to every complaint but is focussed only on allegations that merit it. The GDC reduced the ARF when we were financially able to do so. We recently introduced payment by instalments for all registrants.
And the GDC’s Executive team did a huge amount of work to support the dental training system to respond effectively to the challenges posed by COVID-19.
One of my frustrations is the slow pace of regulatory reform. The Government has been working on different versions of legislative change for the whole of my two terms as Chair. The GDC now faces three pieces of legislation and the outcome of two studies into aspects of healthcare professional regulation. I hope that progress will be swift and that the legislation will tackle the issues that need to be sorted. If not, the GDC will continue to operate within a statutory framework that is manifestly unfit for purpose. With modern legislation the costs of operating our processes could be significantly less. Achieving this is in all our interests.
I wish my successor, Lord Toby Harris, all the best. As a member of the House of Lords, and as a seasoned campaigner for the rights of consumers to be treated fairly, I am sure that he will add much to this complex and important area of healthcare regulation.