THE General Dental Council has recognised that greater clarity is needed in regard to the "serious nature of impaired fitness to practise" and that anything short of that should be dealt with using "alternative tools with the right touch".
This is one key conclusion in a new discussion document published by the dental regulator. Shifting the balance: a better, fairer system of dental regulation offers further detail about how the GDC plans to strengthen the current complaints system so that issues raised by patients are dealt with appropriately – normally in the first instance by the dental practice.
The GDC still receives a significant number of complaints which are unrelated to a dental professional’s clinical ability and are not investigated as part of the fitness to practise process. These are often complaints that could or should be resolved between the patient and the practice, and the GDC wants to work with the profession to remove the barriers preventing such "first tier" complaints resolution.
Among proposals for action, the GDC aims to move the system forward in the following areas:
- Moving upstream: including putting a stronger emphasis on patient protection, learning within the system, engaging more effectively with registrants and future registrants, and developing alternative approaches to continuing professional development.
- First tier complaints resolution: building better partnerships to improve the handling of patient feedback, concerns and complaints within the practice, and expanding access to mediation and other forms of resolution.
- Working with partners: including other regulators and equivalents and the professions themselves.
- Refocusing fitness to practise: being clear about the serious nature of ‘impaired fitness to practise’ and taking action to ensure that anything short of that is dealt with using alternative tools with the right touch, and providing support to patients to find the best mechanism for resolving their issue.
Bill Moyes, Chair of the General Dental Council, said: "Even with an increased focus on prevention, sometimes things will go wrong and a patient will wish to make a complaint.
"Patients find it difficult to navigate the current system, so more needs to be done to make it easier for patients to complain, making sure the complaint goes to the most appropriate organisation. There are clear benefits for patients and professionals in a system which enables early, quick and low-cost resolution of complaints and disputes.
"We know good practice exists, so we want to work with the profession to maximise the potential of complaints being handled between the dental professional and the patient, so there is a consistent approach across the four nations.
"The success of our plans are dependent upon working with others. We simply cannot bring about change without the support of the profession and our partners."