GDC publishes cross-regulatory research into the concept of seriousness in fitness to practise cases

17 February, 2022

Today we have published research that was jointly commissioned with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and supported by regulators of health professions across the UK to understand how the concept of seriousness is defined and applied by healthcare regulators in their fitness to practice (FtP) function. The research also looks into what factors influence its application, and the similarities and differences in approaches across regulation. 

The research shows that while there are some fundamental differences between regulators in how and when seriousness is considered during an FtP process, partly due to the differing legislative frameworks each operate in, there are nonetheless some similarities and consistency in how the concept is generally understood and used. Cases involving sexual misconduct, dishonesty, criminal convictions, are all types of behaviour that are likely to be treated as serious misconduct and where there is broadly consistent guidance across all regulators.

It is important that dental professionals understand how the GDC, as the regulator of the whole dental team, determines misconduct and the factors that influence its seriousness. This research shows that a registrant’s level of engagement with their regulator is an important factor in determining the seriousness of an FtP case and the eventual outcome of it. Although the vast majority of dental professionals will never be involved in an FtP case, the GDC advises any who do find themselves involved in one to be fully engaged with and responsive during the process. Professionals who do engage with the regulator typically see less severe outcomes than those who do not.

GDC Executive Director, Fitness to Practise, John Cullinane, said: 

“The findings in this report will inform all our work where the concept of seriousness is relevant and this research provides useful evidence to inform our ongoing work to improve our fitness to practise processes. Our outdated legislation, however, severely limits how much progress we can make, preventing proportionate and responsive approaches in many areas of our work. We continue to press the Government to deliver the reforms they consulted on last year which we believe will give us the freedom to make significant improvements for the benefit of both patients and dental professionals.” 

This research was a collaborative piece of work involving the majority of the UK’s regulators of healthcare professions. We are grateful to our commissioning partner, the NMC, its associate research partners in the project, the General Chiropractic Council, the General Optical Council, the General Osteopathic Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council, and to the General Medical Council for its support in recruiting participants for the research. 
The full research report and main findings can be found on our research pages.