THE General Dental Council has defended its use of undercover investigations and not ruled out future use if merited by potential public risk, and if there is no other way to investigate an allegation.
Recent press and social media coverage has called for the GDC to stop using registrants’ funding on undercover investigations, which has been characterised as entrapment.
GDC executive director of fitness to practise, John Cullinane, commented on the matter in a blog, stating that undercover investigations are used rarely and even less so in recent years, without a single such investigation conducted since 2019.
He did acknowledge mistakes in an investigation undertaken in 2016, when an undercover visit took place regarding a concern that did not meet the threshold to warrant one. The GDC agreed to pay compensation to the registrant concerned and meet legal costs, amounting to £38,000 in total.
Mr Cullinane writes: "Our statutory framework requires us to investigate concerns that a registrant’s fitness to practise may be impaired. In doing this, undercover investigations are used as a last resort, when it is not possible to gather evidence in other ways and there is reason to believe that there may be a risk to patient safety. We have a robust process in place to assess risks to public health, safety and wellbeing, and this is designed to balance public protection with the rights of the individuals concerned.
"The fact that no undercover fitness to practise investigations have taken place in recent years demonstrates that this is not a technique we use lightly, but we cannot rule out using it in the future where there is potential risk to the public, and where there is no other way to investigate a specific allegation that has been made."