GDC publishes research on experiences in fitness to practise

30 November, 2022
We have today published independent qualitative research which we commissioned to understand and learn from the experiences of 70 individuals involved with fitness to practise. The research, which looked at historical cases dating from 2015 – 2021, found that although outcomes were seen as largely fair and effective, there were often significant negative impacts reported on the mental health and wellbeing of participants and, as a result, this could have unintended consequences for professional behaviour and practice.

Our primary purpose is patient safety and one of the ways we fulfil this is by investigating the concerns we receive about the practise, conduct, or health of dental professionals. Investigations are often complex and, as a result, can take a long time. By its nature, the process can be difficult.

Much of this process is set by outdated and rigid legislation and, although the government has made commitments to reform, there is little prospect of change to the legal framework taking effect for some years to come. In the absence of that reform, we are continuing our work to make changes within the existing legislation, and to address some of the issues identified by this research.

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

“We know that fitness to practise investigations can be stressful and that many take too long to resolve, with some becoming complex and adversarial. Much in this report reinforces our view on where improvements are needed, and its findings have confirmed our thinking on the best way to go about effecting that change.

“This work will be challenging, but improvements have already been made. For instance, by always encouraging local complaint resolution, we’ve seen a reduction of almost 1,200 concerns being brought to us in the six years to 2021. We increased the capacity in our casework team at the beginning of the year, and are now starting to see the benefits of that change, and earlier this year we launched the Dental Professionals Hearings Service to highlight the independence of panels and hearings from the GDC.

“Only reform of our legislation can bring the kind of wholesale change which is so clearly needed. But, in its absence, if we are to continue improving fitness to practise, we must go on making repeated incremental changes to improve the process and experiences of those involved, and this is very much our plan.”

For further information, please read the full research report and John Cullinane's blog post on improvements in fitness to practise.