The human cost of delays in GDC investigations

DDU solicitor Tamsin Thomas examines two cases that demonstrate the impact of GDC investigation delays on members.

Dentist's conditions lifted following slow investigation

After a complaint by a single patient, a DDU member had conditions placed on their registration by an interim order committee (IOC) in November 2020.

The GDC initially proposed conditions for a period of 18 months, but when the DDU's barrister argued this was excessive, the IOC determined that conditions imposed for 12 months would be enough for the GDC to complete its investigations and list the matter for a substantive hearing, if required.

In September 2021, the GDC wrote to the DDU to confirm that the IOC order for conditions would expire in November 2021, and that it would be seeking an extension from the High Court.

The DDU solicitor asked the GDC casework team what progress had been made in investigating the case, whether a clinical advice report had been prepared and whether allegations were being drafted. The GDC team replied that a request to the practice for full patient records had only been made that week, and that when they received the records, an independent expert review would be commissioned.

At the IOC review hearing in October 2021, the DDU's barrister explained that the IOC should be carrying out a risk assessment and should not administer a longer punishment on our member because of the slow investigation by the GDC.

The IOC agreed with this analysis. It concluded that conditions were no longer necessary and they were lifted immediately.

Dentist left in suspension limbo

A DDU member was suspended by the IOC in February 2021 for 15 months. The DDU's correspondence with the GDC about how the initial complaint was progressing demonstrated that no significant steps were taken to move things forward.

Our solicitor repeatedly wrote to the GDC to ask them to clarify timescales for the substantive case. In February 2022 - one year after the initial IOC - we received a response saying that, "unfortunately, we are not able give a timescale at present. The risk is that we could give you a date by which the disclosure would be made and then not honour it."

At the IOC review hearing in March 2022, the DDU's barrister pointed out that the committee at the original hearing had determined that the suspension order should be imposed for 15 months, which was considered enough time for the GDC to complete its investigation. Whatever the reason for the delay, given the impact of the suspension, it would be wholly disproportionate for our member to bear the cost of those delays.

A key role of the GDC is to make sure that confidence in the profession is maintained by restricting the practice of dentists under investigation, if necessary. The DDU's barrister noted that in this case, confidence in the regulator would be hugely undermined if a senior dentist could be suspended from practice and then left in limbo for over a year without the case being progressed.

The IOC agreed with this analysis and determined that the suspension should be lifted, and conditions were imposed instead.

This page was correct at publication on 08/08/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.