Dental Protection has called for radical reform to how the General Dental Council (GDC) investigates dental professionals, as new research reveals significant numbers are experiencing suicidal thoughts or quitting dentistry as a result of their investigation.
In a Dental Protection survey of 125 dental professionals who have been investigated by the dental regulator in the last five years, 82% said the investigation had a detrimental impact on their mental health and 96% said it caused stress and anxiety. 14% quit dentistry due to the investigation, and a further 38% considered leaving. Over a quarter (28%) said they experienced suicidal thoughts during the investigation.
In the survey, 82% of respondents said the length of the investigation impacted their mental health most, with some lasting several years. 74% said the tone of communications from the GDC affected them most, with one respondent describing it as ‘cold and harsh’.
Dental Protection, which supports dental professionals with regulatory investigations, called on both the GDC and the Government to take urgent steps to reduce the number of dental professionals needlessly dragged through this process, and resolve cases more quickly.
Dr Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection, said: “Dental Protection supports dental professionals from the moment a GDC complaint is received, to its conclusion at a hearing. We see how a GDC investigation takes its toll on the mental health of those involved day in day out, yet these survey results are still shocking and make for difficult reading.
“One dental professional quitting dentistry, or worse, experiencing suicidal thoughts due to a GDC investigation is one too many and this should act as a wake-up call for both the GDC and the Government.
“Members told us the length of their GDC investigation had the most impact on their mental health. The Professional Standards Authority, in its 2021/2022 review of the regulator, said the GDC is taking too long to progress fitness to practise cases and that the number of open older cases has increased. It described the delays as ‘serious and ongoing’.
“GDC reform would give the regulator discretion to not take forward investigations where allegations clearly do not require action, to focus on the most serious allegations and process them more quickly, and the Government must progress this with more urgency. But the GDC can and should make more progress in the meantime - it must deliver on its 2021 commitment to tackle the delays to cases itself, through alternative ways of managing the caseload and increasing the size of its team.
“Having your fitness to practise called into question can be devastating, and there is no reason why the GDC cannot communicate with dentists with more compassion. For example, it should acknowledge the impact the investigation may have on mental wellbeing in its letters, and ensure its correspondence is accessible across all devices. It should also consider introducing an independent 24/7 wellbeing support service.
“Finally, we would urge the GDC to keep its promise to publish data - in the first half of 2023 - on registrants who have died by suicide during a GDC investigation. This will demonstrate transparency and be the first real step in understanding the extent of this problem.”
Notes to editors
Anonymous comments left by dental professionals who took part in the Dental Protection research:
“GDC investigation is the most distressful situation I faced in my life. The wait to go through the stages of their investigation is what takes most of the toll. The way it is set up assumes that you are guilty unless proven innocent.”
“The GDC were cold and overly harsh on what in my case was a very minor accusation. I had and still have no confidence in the GDC to regulate and punish in an appropriate manner.”
“Thankfully my case did not proceed to a hearing, as it was not substantial enough, but it took almost 3 years to clear, which was an extremely long time.”
“It affected my health and wellbeing in such a serious degree that I had to see my GP and take counselling to be able to cope. I was in serious distress, unable to sleep at night and I could not focus on work or care for my family. I could not find any pleasure in my daily life. I was questioning myself even for the simplest clinical matters. I considered leaving dentistry many times.”
“I am responsible for two children; worrying about my ability to provide almost broke me”.
“I was sent a text message from someone at the GDC fitness to practise team. They then did not answer the phone when I tried to call them several times that day.”
“The whole process of GDC complaints needs overhauling. They should be able to differentiate the serious from the trivial.”
“The bar seems so low that almost any complaint, however unsubstantiated initiates a heavy handed and far too lengthy enquiry.”
“The whole process took a very long time (over 3 years). It affected my future career choices.”
About Dental Protection
Dental Protection is a registered trademark and a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). MPS is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.
Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.
Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.
MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.