Chairing the GDC Council and understanding of our purpose

01 October, 2021 by Lord Toby Harris

I’m delighted to be joining the GDC as Chair of Council. In particular, I am looking forward to working with the professions to ensure that our approach to regulation is proportionate and focused on our core purpose of patient safety and public confidence.

At the core of the work of the GDC must be the public interest: public safety is central and our purpose is to ensure that the public has confidence in the professions we regulate. I have had many years of experience in a variety of public sector roles, ranging from consumer protection, policing, local government and healthcare. I hope that I can bring that experience to bear within the discussions of Council.

Our purpose is patient safety and public confidence

Understanding what drives public confidence in dentistry is very important to our work. The GDC must be evidence-led in its approach. That is why we continue to undertake our own public research. In 2020 this told us, reassuringly, that the public continued to be confident in healthcare regulation overall with 80% saying they were fairly or very confident.

Providing information for the public, including about the impact of COVID-19 on their dental service and why face masks and social distancing are still in place at the dentist, remains a priority and something I’d like us to do more of.

Prior to this role, I knew from Ipsos MORI research in 2019 that dentists were in the top three trusted professions in the UK, with more than 90% of people saying they would trust dentists to tell the truth.

This is positive but there’s much more for us to do to build understanding of the GDC role, by engaging with stakeholders and explaining our work such as registering dental professionals and assuring education standards.

Building understanding of our role

It’s also important that we operate a regulatory system which protects patients and is fair to registrants, that we explain the process and responsibilities of everyone involved in investigating concerns, and that we help dental professionals to make positive changes to their practice and dental services by reflecting on the insights and trends identified from the fitness to practise process.

Our upstream agenda, including education standards, career-long learning, promoting high standards of care and professional conduct, is critical to regulation.  We will continue to work with stakeholders and the professions to deliver this.

Core to our purpose is the dental team and the different professions within it. When people say ‘dentist’ they’re sometimes unknowingly referring to a range of professionals. I believe that one of the strengths of the GDC is that it embraces this entire team. We know from our registers that professionals who have registered as dental nurses made up 49% of the 120,406 registered titles in 2020/21, followed by dentists (36%), dental hygienists (6%) and dental technicians (5%), dental therapists (3%), orthodontic therapists (1%) and clinical dental technicians (<1%).

I’m committed to ensuring that patient safety and public confidence remain a key area of focus going forward.

Looking ahead to Council and regulatory reform

As a member of the House of Lords, I will be taking a particular interest in the pace of regulatory reform, which we need to unlock to remove structural inefficiencies in,  and restrictions on, how we operate. There are currently different legislative change initiatives that may impact our statutory functions in the years ahead, and I’m pleased to join at a time where my experience can help.

I was an observer at the GDC Council meeting in September where it was excellent to hear the discussion and get a sense of the collective decision-making that Council provides. I’m looking forward to chairing our October Council and working with the other members of the Council and the Executive team.

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