AN OUTLINE of the procedures and regulations of the General Dental Council now forms part of the teaching curriculum in most if not all UK dental schools – but as new dental graduates start their vocational training it is important to remember that being familiar with GDC requirements is not simply an academic matter.
MDDUS dental adviser Doug Hamilton believes that some new graduates may not fully appreciate the rigour with which these rules can be applied.
"Being brought to the attention of the GDC is always very stressful, but can be particularly upsetting if it occurs near the outset of a career," says Hamilton. "All graduates should be familiar with the comprehensive and accessible guidance documents which are published by the GDC."
All GDC guidelines are worth reviewing but there are certain requirements that are particularly applicable to recent graduates and worth highlighting.
Ensure you are registered. Registration is renewable annually by January 1 through payment of a retention fee. Every year MDDUS is contacted by members who have neglected to pay this fee and are therefore not registered.
"Dentists who are not registered must cease all clinical work until the application form and registration fee have been accepted," says Hamilton. "Completion of this process may necessitate the submission of a written explanation as to why the dentist was practising without being registered."
The GDC requires that all registrants are properly indemnified against claims of clinical negligence. This is to ensure that patients are able to claim any compensation they may be entitled to. Dental defence organisations, such as MDDUS, provide access to indemnity as well as expert dento-legal advice, assistance with complaints and representation at GDC proceedings.
Graduates must work within the scope of their knowledge and professional competence.
Says Hamilton: "As the first stages of vocational training are completed, the degree of supervision can moderate. While this new found clinical independence is a necessary step in the learning curve, it can lead to problems.
"Either through over-confidence, a sense of obligation or patient pressure, trainees may embark upon procedures for which they are not ready. The results can be catastrophic for a patient’s dental health and the dentist’s professional status. Therefore, less experienced dentists must recognise their limitations and be prepared to seek assistance from colleagues where necessary."
The GDC requires registrants to maintain appropriate standards of professional behaviour not only in the clinical setting but in all walks of life.
"Being free of studies and having a source of income can be a fairly intoxicating cocktail," says Hamilton. "In fact, many an unwise action by an exuberant graduate has been attributed to intoxicating cocktails. Joking aside, the line between high spirits and, for example, a breach of the peace can be very fine.
"Any registrant who is convicted of a criminal offence, even if the resulting censure is limited to an admonishment, should self-refer to the GDC immediately so that the matter can be considered by an investigating committee. The GDC does not confine itself to the regulation of clinical activities. Conduct in all circumstances must justify the public’s trust in the dental profession."
Don't learn the hard way...
This list of potential pitfalls is by no means exhaustive and is just as applicable to experienced dentists as it is to younger practitioners.
"Over the course of a dentist’s career they will acquire an understanding of the role of the GDC, through attendance at relevant courses, reading GDC updates or, in some unfortunate cases, through first-hand experience," adds Hamilton.
"New graduates have yet to embark upon this process of information gathering and may underestimate the scope and rigour of the GDC regulations. Therefore, before taking up their first post, MDDUS would encourage new members to read and carefully reflect upon all of the obligations which have been published by the GDC."
GDC guidance documents are accessible on the Standards page of www.gdc-uk.org. MDDUS is on hand 24 hours a day to provide advice and support to any new members who have concerns regarding GDC regulations.