New advice on raising concerns will reassure dental professionals about speaking out

New advice on raising concerns aims to help guide dental professionals on what steps to take if they think patients or colleagues might be at risk, the Dental Defence Union (DDU) said today.

The General Dental Council (GDC) advice, which has just been published, reminds dental professionals of their responsibility to raise concerns, explains when and how to raise a concern and provides sources of help and advice. Managers and employers are also reminded of the duty to support a workplace culture where staff can speak about issues openly and without fear of reprisal.

A survey of 328 dental professionals by the DDU in 2013 found that less than a quarter (75) had experience of raising concerns and just eight percent (26) had encountered barriers to doing so. These barriers included pressure from colleagues or management, or anxiety that their career might be adversely affected.

Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, Head of DDU, said: 'The Dental Defence Union (DDU), receives many calls from dental professionals each year about whether to raise a concern and how best to do it. The decision to speak out is rarely taken lightly so the new advice will provide additional help to dental professionals in this difficult position. Under Principle 8 of the GDC's 'Standards for the Dental Team', dental professionals have a duty to 'raise concerns if patients are at risk', so it's important not to turn a blind eye to issues such as poor performance by colleagues or lack of resources, which may potentially harm patients.

'We know from our own research that it can be off-putting for dental professionals who think their concerns won't be taken seriously or will reflect badly on them. It's important to realise, as the GDC advice explains, that even if a concern turns out to be nothing serious, a professional's actions will not be viewed badly as long as they acted honestly, used the right channels and had patients' or colleagues' interests in mind.'

The GDC advice says concerns should be raised within the workplace wherever possible, following local policies. Only in rare situations will the GDC need to be the first port of call for raising a concern, such as when a colleague provides very poor treatment, doesn't have professional indemnity arrangements in place or is under the influence of drink or drugs.

The DDU's advice to dental professionals on raising concerns includes:

  • report a concern promptly, after taking advice; don't sit on it until it reaches a critical point
  • raise concerns locally in the first instance, with a senior colleague, practice owner or manager, following your employer's policy
  • put your concerns in writing and ask for a written reply
  • keep a record of the events that led to your concern and the steps you have taken to resolve them. Stick to the facts and try not to be influenced by personal feelings
  • if colleagues are affected, consider sending a joint letter of concern, which may have more impact
  • if no action is taken and patients may be harmed as a result, you may need to escalate your concern, informing the CQC or the GDC if necessary
  • get advice from your dental defence organisation or professional organisation. Another source of advice is the GDC's confidential helpline for dental professionals, which is being run by the charity Public Concern at Work. It can be contacted on 0800 6681329.

This guidance was correct at publication 30/09/2015. It 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.

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