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Health Friday, 7 June, 2002, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
GDC: Supporting dentists
The General Dental Council (GDC) has been regulating dentists for almost 40 years.

Established in 1956, it is responsible for protecting the public and ensuring standards are maintained in dentistry.

It does this through its two main functions - maintaining a register of those qualified to work in dentistry and disciplining those who are not.

Based in London, the GDC maintains two registers - one for dentists and the other for dental auxiliaries, which includes hygienists and therapists.
Main responsibilities
Licensing dentists to practise in the UK
Investigating complaints against dentists
Disciplinging dentists who are unfit to practise
Issueing guidelines on best practise
Promoting high standards in dental education

Only those who have completed recognised training can be registered while only those on the register can practice in the UK.

Like the other regulatory bodies, the GDC is responsible for taking action to stop 'rogue' practitioners from working.

It can follow up complaints received from patients, health authorities, trusts or other parties. It will discipline doctors who have been convicted of a crime.

Complaints are assessed by preliminary screeners or investigators. These are senior members of council.

Council is the policy making body of the GDC. It meets twice a year and has 50 elected members six of whom are lay members appointed by the Privy Council.

It is backed up by a secretariat which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation.

A case to answer

The screeners decide whether the complaint is valid and whether there is evidence of serious professional misconduct.

If they find that the dentist or auxiliary may have a case to answer they will forward the case to the preliminary proceedings committee (PPC).

This committee meets in private to consider evidence against a dentist. It decides whether there is a case to answer or not. If so, the matter is referred to the professional conduct committee.

This committee meets in public and consists of 11 members, two of whom are lay representatives.

It hears evidence in much the same way as a court would, calling witnesses such as the dentist and patient.

Cases against individual dentists have to proven beyond reasonable doubt in the same way as a criminal court case.

If the committee finds the dentist guilty of professional misconduct it can:

  • postpone a decision for a maximum of one year to see if the dentist improves
  • issue a warning to the individual
  • require the dentist to retrain
  • suspend the dentist's registration
  • erase the dentist's name from the register

    Any dentist who is struck of the register cannot apply to be restored or to be allowed to work again for a minimum of 10 months. There is no limit on how many times they can apply for restoration.

    GDC facts
    Established in 1956
    Run by a council of 50 members
    Six Council members are lay representatives
    Answerable to the Privy Council
    Headed by a dental president
    The GDC can also take action if a dentist is deemed to have a serious health problem, such as mental health problems or an addiction to alcohol or drugs.

    The president of the GDC decides if a dentist's health may put patients at risk. If his is the case, the dentist in question is invited to take part in a medical examination.

    The medical examiners submit a report to the GDC on the individual's condition and recommend a programme of rehabilitation.

    The GDC's health committee meets in private to consider the report. If it decides that a dentist's fitness to practice is seriously impaired, it may:

  • suspend the dentist; or
  • impose restrictions on their practice

    These suspensions and restrictions are reviewed regularly with the aim of helping the dentist to return to work.

    High standards

    The GDC is responsible for encouraging high standards in dentistry. It issues guidance on various aspects of dentists' work.

    It also ensures standards of teaching are maintained and regularly visits dentistry schools across the UK to ensure they are keeping to the curriculum.

    Recently, the GDC has taken steps to tighten regulation of dentists. This includes plans to introduce a recertification scheme.

    This will require all practitioners to take part in continuing education or continuing profession development to ensure they are keeping their skills up to date.

  • See also:

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