Raising concerns

Raising a concern at work can be a difficult area to navigate, so it's important to know how, when and why. Our quick guide answers some common questions.

All dental professionals have an ethical duty to put patients' interests first, which must override personal and professional loyalties.

The decision to raise a concern can be a difficult one to make on your own, especially if you feel it may be taken as a criticism of a senior colleague or employer.

  • Consider the following frequently asked questions, and contact us for more advice if you need it.
  • Remember, all our advisers are dental professionals themselves, so they understand the realities of everyday practice.

When should I raise concerns?

If you are anxious that patients might be at risk:

  • because of the health, behaviour or professional performance of an employer or colleague
  • because of any aspect of the clinical environment, such as infection control
  • because you have been asked to do something you believe conflicts with your duty to put patients' interests first.

Is it enough to raise my concerns verbally?

It's a good idea to put your concerns in writing and to request a written reply as confirmation.

If colleagues are affected, consider sending a joint letter of concern, which may have more impact.

We also suggest you keep a record of your concerns and any steps you have taken to resolve them. Stick to the facts, and try not to be influenced by personal feelings.

Your employer or practice owner should keep you informed of how they propose to deal with the matter and the time frame for their response.

What if my concerns are about my boss?

Principle 8 of the GDC's 'Standards for the Dental Team' states "Raise concerns if patients are at risk''. GDC Standard 8.1.1 explains that "Your duty to raise concerns overrides any personal and professional loyalties or concerns you might have (for example, seeming disloyal or being treated differently by your colleagues or managers)."

Your practice procedure may identify a neutral person you can raise your concerns with, but if you're worried about a possible confrontation, speak to the DDU for more advice.

I'm worried I may be victimised. Can I raise a concern anonymously?

While it may be possible to request your name be kept confidential during any investigation, it's not usually advisable to report concerns anonymously, as this could hamper any investigation and might even mean the complaint is not taken seriously.

If you are concerned about the reaction to your complaint, you may be reassured to know that the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) 1998 offers protection for those who honestly raise concerns about wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace.

Should I inform the GDC if I have patient safety concerns?

In the first instance, you will usually be expected to raise concerns locally using the established procedure.

It may be appropriate to refer your concern to the GDC if:

  • taking action at a local level is not practical
  • action at a local level has failed
  • the problem is so severe that the GDC clearly needs to be involved
  • there is a genuine fear of victimisation or deliberate concealment
  • you believe a registrant may not be fit to practise because of their health, performance or conduct.

If I don't raise my concerns, what might happen?

The GDC advises that you should act on concerns as early as possible, to allow poor practice to be identified and tackled before there is a risk to patient safety.

All members of the dental team - dentists and dental care professionals - are expected to act if they believe standards of care are inadequate and patients might be at risk.

If something goes wrong and an investigation reveals that others in the team could or should have known, this could lead to a GDC referral and fitness to practise investigation - which may jeopardise your registration.

If I believe a dentist's treatment plan is not in a patient's interest, what should I do?

As a registered professional, you are accountable to the GDC for your actions and the treatment you carry out, and responsible for co-operating with other team members in the best interests of patients.

If you're worried that you're being asked to do something that is not in a patient's best interest or that you are not trained and competent to do, it's important to approach the prescribing dentist.

It may feel uncomfortable to question a senior colleague, but it's far worse to deal with an adverse incident that leads to a complaint, claim or GDC investigation.

If the disagreement can't be resolved, it might be advisable to seek a second opinion from a colleague or the DDU about your next move.

Who can I turn to for independent advice?

If you're not sure whether or how to raise a concern, you can contact the DDU advice line for specific advice. The organisation Protect also provides free, confidential advice. You can find the GDC's advice for dental professionals on raising concerns on their website.

We offer unlimited access to a 24/7/365 confidential health and wellbeing helpline. To access this free service, DDU members can call 0330 678 1223.

We've also published a list of other sources of support.

This page was correct at publication on 20/12/2021. 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.