The Chief Executive’s closing remarks at the Dental Leadership Network, June 2024

12 June, 2024

GDC Chief Executive Tom Whiting today addressed the Dental Leadership Network (not checked against delivery).


Let me start by thanking the Dental Leadership Network for inviting me to be with you today and giving me the opportunity to make some closing remarks.

It is day 8 for me in my new role. I have been made to feel incredibly welcome by colleagues at the GDC and by the many very warm and productive conversations that I have been able to have with you today. I feel very honoured to be here.

I also feel very at home as a member of this network because what we are seeking to do through this network is to come together to tackle some of the trickiest challenges facing dental professionals and patients.

All challenges that we know matter – that we collectively and individually care about – and all challenges that we know are best tackled in partnership.

To do so successfully involves us sharing information, building relationships and working together.

So let me start firstly as a member of the Network, reflecting on today’s event.

And then I would like to say a few words about my role as the GDC’s Chief Executive and Registrar and the approach that I am looking to bring to it.

My reflections on the day

I join the GDC after just over 5 years at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and prior to that a long spell, 14 years, in Local Government at the London Borough of Harrow and before that nearly 9 years in and around regulation in the Energy and Utility Sector in the UK and Europe.

So, in the last 20 years I have been able to see firsthand the profound impact our work and the work of those around us can have on people’s lives and in particular, their wellbeing and safety. I have also seen the huge disparities that exist for communities in different geographies and for people from different backgrounds.

The IOPC overseas the Police Complaints system and investigates the most serious cases and it looks to improve the public’s confidence in the Police by holding people to account where something has gone wrong but also by identifying learning from what is investigated – to help make sure the same doesn’t happen again.

Those aims were best delivered working in partnership with Police forces while respectful of the IOPC’s independence.

And of course – many local government services are targeted on improving the health and wellbeing of local people and keeping vulnerable people safe.

These outcomes were only ever successfully delivered in partnership with local health services, the police and voluntary and faith organisations.

So, I was delighted to see that the theme of today’s event was health and wellbeing leadership in the dental team. I knew this was going to be a great day – and it didn’t disappoint.

Firstly, thank you Zain for sharing your lived experience of managing a chronic health condition in dentistry. I’m sure we were all struck by the impact that this can have on someone’s wellbeing. And thank you for reminding us, as leaders, of the need to build an inclusive environment at work – because that is what enables us to succeed and thrive.

I really enjoyed the focus on inclusion and belonging from Sophia and Safiyyah from the Diversity in Dentistry Action Group (DDAG) – and the clear message that the feeling of not belonging in a work environment can impact someone’s attainment and what they can achieve.

DDAG shared their priorities and asked us to get our organisations involved in achieving them – I hope we can all do that after today. And I would appreciate the opportunity to follow up with you to help the GDC to undertake the role we need to play.

The morning panel brought a thoughtful discussion about mental health wellness in the workplace, and expertly facilitated by Catherine – thank you.

It was powerful to hear from a range of organisations about their experience of what’s important for mental wellbeing. It’s right that we ask ourselves if dental professionals have access to the right support, and make sure that we are all playing our part and not compromising mental wellness in what we do.

Mahrukh’s session on team and individual resilience interventions was both thoughtful and practical. And also based on evidence, showing us tools and techniques that are relevant to dental professionals and have been tried and tested.

And finally, our afternoon session made the point that a healthy dental team equals good patient care – an aim that unites us.

And I thank the tables and panellists for sharing what you are already doing to improve health and wellbeing in the dental team.

It is great to share experiences, and it’s a benefit of us coming together but let’s now take away ideas for what we can practically do where we work.

My early thoughts as the GDC’s Chief Executive

Now, mindful that I stand between you and the chance to network for an hour, with fresh tea, coffee and cake, I would like to share some of my early thoughts as the GDC’s incoming Chief Executive – bearing in mind it is day 8.

My firm belief built from what has worked and not worked in previous experience is that the goals of the most effective organisations are best delivered in partnership with others, while being respectful of our different roles.

We will agree on more than we disagree on – and I am committed to working with others, many of you here, to identifying the common areas that we can work on that help patients and professionals alike. They are often tricky because they cut across organisational boundaries.

Already I’m impressed by the scale of the change that’s underway at the GDC. And I thank the team there for changes and progress they have made over the last few months.

The GDC is already tackling backlogs in Registration and for our Case Examiners – but there is much more to do, but i am pleased to see that investment has gone in and the trajectory is good.

We must keep going and build on progress.

We are also starting shortly to develop the corporate strategy for 2026 to 2028 – which we’ll consult on with you next year before it is set by our Council. And I am looking forward to working with them, newly in, as we get this work underway.

Many of the GDC’s priorities are of course set by you, through our consultations and the feedback you share, the issues you raise.

I want to be clear what we can do without legislation and where legislation holds us back. I want there to be discussion about what we commonly agree on and want to change. And I want to have a look at whether there are changes we can make within the legislation that exists.

That said, as the incoming Chief Executive, I do have priorities I believe are important – for me and for any organisation.

1. Be clear on our context and purpose

A review of strategy is a good opportunity to look at the world around us and what has changed and to think about our purpose. It is an opportunity also to be forward looking.

The context dental professionals operate in is tough and changes.

The societal challenges that dentistry faces – are the backdrops for our strategy and shaped by our role, we have the opportunity for us to be clear on what we are going to do.

I know that everyone here today has a strong shared commitment to patient safety and patient care – and public protection and confidence are the drivers for all of us.

To give a few examples of the scale and composition of dental professionals on the registers:

  • In 2015, the number of registration applications processed by the GDC reached a peak of just less than 9,000
  • In 2023 we processed around eleven and a half thousand registration applications
  • In 2023, almost half of the dentists who joined the register qualified outside the UK, 38% qualifying in Europe and 10% through the Overseas Registration Examination
  • In summary, as we review our strategy, as well as immediate opportunities, we must look at context to shape what we do – and I want to work with you to identify how we work together where it is only partnership working that will succeed.

2. Look at ourselves from the outside, in

Second, any organisation – and particularly a regulator – needs to constantly remind itself to look at the organisation from the outside in. Many years in Local Government taught me this – as your population hold you to account every 4 years through local elections. And on a daily basis your ward councillors tell you whether you are doing a good job for their residents.

It’s always easier to look at yourself from the inside, out, and to make priorities and processes around what works best for us.

And a Chief Executive must also do some of this directly themselves to understand the needs of those who transact or interact with us or who we come into contact with.

We’ve heard today how important it is for people to belong, be included and be treated fairly – in order to thrive. It affects their own ability to do their job and that affects their organisation’s ability too – and, ultimately for all of us in the room, it affects outcomes and patient care.

I’ll be reflecting on what I’ve heard today and what it means for the GDC’s priorities, and I’m sure you will too.

I am also hoping to get out and do regular front line visits – across a range of settings meeting students and professionals and providers. Dialogue matters but also to understand practice and pressures and to help shape our work.

So, looking at ourselves from the outside, in, is important for me.

3. Be a learning organisation and help others to learn too

Third, while I’m keen to learn about the dental sector, I’m also keen that we are a learning organisation too.

For me, it’s important that we learn from ourselves and from what people need from us.

To do this, we have to share what we learn – and we should also help others to learn from the outcomes of regulatory processes too.

These are early days but I expect that through our fitness to practice processes we see a lot around common areas and themes that we could probably package and share. We would need to do this in partnership in a fragmented sector, but where we can learn, prevent and avoid – we can also help professionals too.

I will be thinking about what this means for us.

4. Engage, listen, and respond to perceptions

A huge priority for me is to engage, listen, understand issues and respond to perceptions.

I have found the Dental Leadership Network to be a brilliant development. Joining it will help me to spend time with you.

I’ll also be spending time with stakeholders and dental professionals where they are already meeting – in their organisations, at conferences, events.

And as I have mentioned one thing I am very excited about is going out to visit a variety of dental settings, regularly, so that I understand more about where and how dental professionals work.

This will help me to listen, to understand perceptions of the GDC, and to show that we’re responding to these.

Our role is public protection and maintaining confidence in the dental professions is core to that.

I want to work with you to help our role to be understood.

5. Build partnerships – I am someone you can work with

 Finally, in summary, I'm committed to building upon our relationships with dental professionals and stakeholders to build trust and understanding, and to develop partnerships where we can most productively work together.

There are many parallels between the work of the IOPC, Local Government and the work of the GDC, including how the goals of the most effective organisations are best delivered in partnership with others, with whom we have many shared aims.

As a member both of the DLN and as the GDC’s Chief Executive and Registrar, I want you to feel that I am someone you can work with. We will sometimes disagree but it should not get in the way of progress on what we agree on.

More than just working together, I want us to build partnerships to help us to be a trusted and effective regulator, and where together we protect patients and maintain confidence in the dental professions.

Over the months ahead, these things will be important to me as the GDC’s Chief Exec and I hope that they’ll become important to all of us here too.

Thank you.