The GDC is encouraging a culture of complaining in dentistry, Phil McCafferty says.

It seems like every few months there’s another new charm offensive launched by the GDC from their ivory citadel in Wimpole Street. They love to inform us that as a result of their ingenious strategies – upstreaming, partnership initiatives, engagement of stakeholders (which sounds like they’re taking us all on a romantic riverboat cruise) that all is well in the world of dental regulation… The language they speak has connotations of a loving, consenting relationship, when the reality is that it’s a marriage made in hell.

The GDC now publishes monthly newsletters and an annual report, imaginatively titled ‘Moving Upstream’ – they like the word – just to let us know how well they’re doing.

They delight in telling us they’re screening out more complaints at an earlier stage, resolving things faster and clearing the backlog that, let’s be honest, has largely been created by their own corporate strategy of building a monstrous complaints industry in dentistry that wasn’t there before. And the growth of that industry has not been driven by patients, it’s been encouraged by people within the GDC and our profession who are hellbent on keeping themselves in work and destroying the working lives of others.

The enemy within

Few of us get up in the morning with the deliberate intention of doing our patients harm. We may feel like it sometimes when faced with a challenging patient, but the fact remains – we are healthcare professionals, not psychopaths.

Our job is a difficult one. We often work under intense pressure, juggling our clinical role with a multitude of tasks…and hovering over us is the constant oppressive presence of the regulator. It sometimes feels like an achievement just to get through a working day with your sanity intact.

Most of us manage that by practising defensively, prescribing conservatively and spending more of our time typing comprehensive notes. It’s sad that’s what our profession has become just because the box tickers have taken over. However, we have to bear in mind that, despite our best intentions, we will never get it right 100% of the time. It’s simply impossible, and we should not be hung out to dry when, with our patient’s best intentions in mind, we try and fail.

Some, but not all the people at executive level within the GDC probably understand the pressures we work under, and are sympathetic, others give us the distinct impression they have an axe to grind. Good people have come in, and in certain respects, some things seem to be changing in the right direction. However, there is one elephant in the boardroom of the GDC whom they all seem to be tiptoeing around. And we all know who that is.

The Birmingham blues

Whilst the GDC remains headquartered in London, in the last year it has transferred some of its operations to new offices in Birmingham. As if the prospect of appearing in front of them wasn’t bad enough, there is now the added element of misery for registrants at the thought of a trip to Birmingham.

This has been sold to us as a positive thing, aimed at driving down costs. Now, I may have gotten the arithmetic wrong here, but, by my reckoning 1 + 1 = 2 offices to run. Maybe that’s another reason why, of the nine statutory UK health and care regulators, dentists’ annual retention fees remain the highest.

One aspect of GDC Fitness to Practise that has been highlighted, rightly, by the GDC as a cause of some concern is the recent rise in so-called ‘blue-on-blue’ cases of one registrant reporting another, often as an act of spite. We must all condemn this kind of unprofessional behaviour, especially as the profession is funding it. There are serial offenders perpetrating this activity, it’s our duty to voice our disapproval.

The way forward

It is my view that the GDC has encouraged a culture of complaining, which has merely enabled the cynic, the miserable and the disturbed ) to make our lives more stressful.

Some people will complain about anything, anywhere. And we’re not immune to these serial doomsayers. So why does the GDC encourage this behaviour? Why is it we have to have a link to the GDC on our practice websites, fast-tracking complaints to their doorstep when doing so contradicts established complaints procedure? If I may indulge in a bit of cynicism, might I suggest it keeps them in employment at our expense?

Far too many trivial matters are being escalated to the doorstep of the GDC when they should be knocked on the head at an earlier stage, and dealt with in a manner that is less stressful and less intimidating for all involved. Whilst failing to admit they created the problem in the first place, the GDC has now been forced to acknowledge the merit in this approach and in Wales there is now a process by which such matters can be ‘repatriated’ back to a more local level for resolution.

To date, Scottish government and the interim CDO appear to be dragging their heels on this and I would urge them to publicly acknowledge the virtue of the Welsh approach. Once that is in place, we look forward to a consequent reduction in the annual retention fee.

For more information, Phil McCafferty can be contacted through Dentistry Scotland. Responses to the article should be emailed to the editor,