A view from the GDC's Chair: Regulating dental professionals in the four nations

02 February, 2022 by Lord Toby Harris

It was good to start the year by reporting that the number of registered UK dentists remains stable following the annual renewal period. Of course, the numbers don’t tell us how many dentists are working in the NHS compared to private practice, or the nature of their role, such as clinical, education, research, but the figures were in line with the trajectory of previous years and stability is to be welcomed.

A regulator for the four nations

Last month, I wrote about the value of our role as the regulator of the whole dental team and that, in most settings, we regulate the entire practice and therefore have a better understanding of the relationships involved and the dynamics of patient engagement with the whole team.

I believe it is also important that we regulate the whole dental team across the four nations of the UK. We take our responsibility to understand the diverse service and governmental structures across the UK very seriously and have dedicated resource to prioritise regular engagement with stakeholders in each nation.

I was therefore pleased to meet this month with the Chief Dental Officers of Scotland (Tom Ferris) and Northern Ireland (Caroline Lappin). Within the past two years, the GDC has been part of collaborative working to put in place an agreement around low-level concerns that do not meet the threshold for the GDC’s Fitness to Practise process. The agreement enables the GDC to refer these concerns to be handled locally, using existing processes and ensures that low level concerns are addressed promptly with resolution sought and found in the most appropriate place. This type of partnership working is key to policymaking and the wider healthcare agenda, a point that Caroline made after taking office.

In Scotland, the GDC meets regularly with stakeholders including NHS directors of dentistry, the Scottish Government’s regulatory unit, dental deans and heads of hygiene and therapy schools, and the organisation is looking at how we can support Tom in his plans for dental education, as part of our remit to ensure the quality of dental education.

Patient safety and public confidence is the priority

One of the many things that drew me to the role of Chair of the GDC is the focus on patient safety and public confidence. I have an interest in how regulators in general can access and engage with the voice of the patient and public in policy-making and service delivery. It was therefore a pleasure to meet with Healthwatch this month and hear more about how they share the views of people about their needs and experience of local health and social care services with those involved in the commissioning and scrutiny of care services. 

Understanding the views of patients and the public is critically important.  However, the GDC also wants to engage with people at the start of their career in dentistry.  This month, as part of our student and trainee engagement programme, we have so far met with just under 400 students, trainees and foundation dentists, including trainee dental hygienists and therapists, as well as first and fifth year BDS students from Belfast, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Sheffield and Newcastle. Feedback so far indicates that the sessions are useful and we are also finding them helpful to build understanding of our role and hear from members of the future dental team.

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