Q+A: Ian Jackson, GDC Director for Scotland

Q+A with GDC Director for Scotland, Ian Jackson

IAN JACKSON recently joined the General Dental Council as its first Scottish Director. Mr Jackson comes to the role after working 27 years for BT, though he has spent his entire career in client and public facing roles. “In my first post as a graduate trainee I drove a milk float and then managed a pub as part of my training,” he says. At BT he was involved in business development, recruitment, training, consultancy and latterly stakeholder management as Partnership Director with BT Scotland. His main prior experience in regulation is as a ministerial nominee on the General Teaching Council Scotland.

Why did the GDC consider it important to appoint a Scottish director?
Since 1999 Scotland has gained more control over a range of matters including many aspects of healthcare and regulation. The General Dental Council wanted to be a part of these changes and we recognise that there are different needs across different parts of the UK. So that’s why I’m here. I want to meet and talk to people in Scotland to help them understand better what we do and how we can help protect them. I also want to get to know and work closely with Scottish healthcare delivery and policy teams. I’ll be working to help us understand and navigate the country’s political system. I’m working closely with the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, members of the public and the dental profession so they realise we’re not a London-centric regulator. This is just our first step in targeting our resources more carefully to meet the needs of the four nations of the United Kingdom.

How does the dental landscape in Scotland differ from the rest of the UK?
The dental landscape in Scotland is broadly similar to the rest of the UK. Of course Scotland has Local Health Boards rather than Primary Care Trusts and payment for NHS treatment is different. It could also be argued that the number of smaller communities and the way professionals work to serve them present unique challenges for our registrants. Access to services is obviously hotly debated in Scotland – and while we don’t deal with that aspect, we have a very important role to play in ensuring those who are treating patients are up to scratch.

You are not a dentist. Is that a handicap in your position?
No I’m not a dentist – but I am a patient and the GDC’s role is to protect patients and regulate the dental team. While working closely with dentists is a central part of my job, they are only one group of a wide variety of stakeholders – from members of the public through to politicians – who I deal with in this role. Don’t forget that I have access to all the expertise within the GDC, including the practitioners who sit on the GDC council and on our panels.

Will revalidation be an easy sell among Scottish dentists?
The great thing is that dentists working in Scotland are helping take the lead with revalidation – playing a crucial role in our feasibility studies. They’re gathering evidence as if they were going through stage 1 of the process. After that, they’ll get a chance to give feedback to an independent research company. We want to work with the profession to establish what the time commitment might be for the process, whether the process we have outlined will work in practice and, if not, how it needs to be changed. We also want to ensure we’re asking for the right kind of information. By the end of the year, we’ll have a report on that.

Many dentists consider revalidation a sledge hammer to crack an acorn. How do you react to that?
Revalidation is about taking patients’ trust in you as dental professionals to another level. Patients need to have confidence that the professionals providing their dental care have not only shown that they’re up to standard when they first join our registers, but can show that they remain up to standard over the course of their working lives. Revalidation will achieve that. The process will not place burdens on registrants except in so far as it’s necessary to protect the public interest. It’s also extremely important to stress that things are in their very early stages at the moment. We’re still working out the details of what the revalidation process will consist of and how it will work.

Do you think that healthcare professionals in Britain are in danger of becoming overregulated?
Whether you have to meet health and safety rules or file tax returns, there will always be demands on your time which take you away from the clinical work you probably went into dentistry for. But I doubt any professional would support the view of getting rid of regulation. It has a vital role in protecting patients by setting standards, driving improvements and, in the rare case where things go wrong, tackling failure. Of course, regulators have a responsibility to make sure our roles are clear and we work together so our expectations and aims are aligned.