The 2019 whistleblowing disclosures report has been published and the General Dental Council has received more whistleblowing disclosures than any other healthcare regulator. 

According to the report, the General Dental Council (GDC) received 75 whistleblowing disclosures.  Of these, in the majority of cases (56) the GDC had to take regulatory action. The regulatory action referred to the opening of fitness to practise cases. These could lead to a range of resolving actions determined by a statutory practice committee, ranging from removal of the registrant from the Register, suspension or conditions for a determined period or the conclusion that fitness to practise is not impaired and the case could be closed. 

What happens when a fitness to practise case is opened by the GDC?

When, for example, a concern about the fitness of a dentist, dental nurse, clinical dental technician, dental hygienist, dental technician, dental therapist or orthodontic therapist to practise is raised through the whistleblowing process, the complaint is passed to the GDC’s Fitness to Practise team.

They will investigate a registrant’s fitness to practise.  This can include looking at their clinical performance, health or professional conduct.  It is worth noting that the GDC’s investigation can also cross over into the issues outside of practice.  This process involve a number of stages and can be quite long in some cases.  What is important is full engagement in the process and to seek expert legal advice from the onset to improve the prospects of a positive outcome.

The initial investigation will, in simple terms, involve an initial assessment and at this stage it will either be closed or passed to a case worker for further investigation.  If the case is not closed, it will go through to the case examiner stage where you will be invited to respond to the evidence and complaint.  At the case examiner’s stage, there is still the option to close the matter.

However, the case examiner can refer the matter to a practice committee if they are of the view that your fitness to practise has been impaired.  There is also the option to refer the matter, at any stage throughout the investigation, to the Interim Orders Committee that can consider whether action needs to be taken to restrict your registration while the case is ongoing.

If your fitness is found to be impaired, a practice committee can take a number of steps including issue a reprimand, impose conditions of practise, suspend your registration or strike you off all together.

Know when to seek legal advice

It is vitally important that you fully engage with the GDC’s investigatory process but that you do so with expert legal advice to assist you.  The consequence of not doing so can be drastic if, for example, you are struck off.

Expert legal advice can advise you from the outset on your response and disclosure of evidence but also represent you before any of the practise committees should the matter progress to that stage.

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