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Fitness to Practice of Dentists – Some Statistics

The dental profession is regulated by the General Dental Council (GDC) who have reported an increasing number of complaints against dental practitioners in recent years. The complaints that they are required to investigate relate to the fitness to practice of mostly dentists and dental nurses and the aspects of the practice assessed by the GDC include conduct, performance and health.

Investigations into fitness to practice can take between 15-18 months to conclude and in the period 2010-2014, the GDC recorded a 110% increase in cases referred to them. Complaints are initially triaged and if found to have substance proceed to the second “assessment” phase. Approximately 40-45% of complaints are closed at that intermediate stage, the balance are referred to an Investigation Committee. Recent statistics reveal that the complaints profile of against whom the complaints are made is as follows:-

  • Dentists 39%
  • Dental nurses 49%
  • Specialists/other 8%

The GDC investigation committee can issue the following sanctions (in rising order of severity):-

  1. Reprimand (warning).
  2. Conditions to practice (restrictions, which can last up to three years).
  3. Suspension (up to twelve months).
  4. Erasure from the register.

In 2014 25% of complaints investigated resulted in conditions, 23% suspensions and 20% erasure, the balance being either no case to answer or reprimands. Of the complaints received, the highest number relate to cross-contamination and a significant proportion to not putting the patient’s interests first (often for financial gain which may be particularly prevalent in cosmetic dentistry cases). The most common treatment issue relates to fillings.

The GDC state that they are striving hard to drive up standards of treatment and care but it would appear that better communication with patients and careful planning of treatment would go a long way to reducing the risk of complaints (and subsequent negligence claims) before they even arise.