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A guide to professional disciplinary proceedings before the General Dental Council

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Stephensons Solicitors LLP have a team of lawyers who advise and defend professional clients across a range of sectors. Our team regularly deals with disciplinary cases before the General Dental Council, primarily acting for Dental Technicians. A referral to the GDC can have serious implications for your professional registration. Proceedings before the GDC can also be long-running and therefore can have significant costs implications. For example one of our recent cases has taken approximately 2 1/2 years to conclude. This brief guide is intended to provide basic information about the procedure which will be followed by the GDC following a referral for conduct/competence based allegations, but should not be relied upon as legal advice. For specialist legal advice from one of our GDC lawyers, you should feel free to contact 01616 966 229.

Q. What could lead to a referral to the General Dental Council?

The GDC will investigate and pursue cases where there is evidence to suggest that a Dentist or Dental Professional's fitness to practice may be impaired. You could be referred to the GDC due to an allegation of deficient professional performance or an allegation of misconduct. Competence issues facing Dental Technicians will often relate to the construction of dental appliances. Professional regulators such as the GDC will consider a wide range of matters to amount to misconduct. These matters may be related to your professional practise, for example poor complaints handling; indemnity insurance issues; inappropriate relationships with patients. Alternatively misconduct may be something outside of your professional practise, such as a criminal conviction.

Q. How will you know if you've been referred to the General Dental Council?

The GDC will normally write to you indicating that they have received a complaint against you. In the case of Dental Laboratories, the GDC will often write to you to request disclosure of information relating to a particular case in order to determine who ought to be the focus of their investigation. The GDC has a statutory power to request this information and if you receive such a request you should contact your insurer and/or seek advice from a specialist lawyer as a matter of urgency in order to protect your interests.

Q. Should you respond to the allegations made by the General Dental Council?

During the course of an investigation the GDC will make a decision as to whether the case ought to be referred to a hearing before the Professional Conduct Committee or the Professional Performance Committee (NB: If there is a concern that your fitness to practise is impaired by reason of your physical or mental health, your case may be referred to the Health Committee for consideration). The GDC will invite you to make a formal response to the allegations which have been made but you are not under an obligation to do so. Whether to make a formal response is an important tactical decision which will depend upon the circumstances of your case and the likelihood of avoiding a hearing before one of the Committees. It is important that you seek specialist advice at this point. It is important to note that if you make a response to allegations without first consulting your insurer, this may prejudice your policy of insurance moving forwards.

Q. What powers does the General Dental Council have?

The sanctions available to the GDC are considerable. If you are ultimately referred to a hearing before the Professional Conduct Committee or Professional Performance Committee, the Panel will determine if any or all of the facts alleged are proven. If they are not, the case will be dismissed. If allegations are proven, the Panel will then consider whether your fitness to practise is currently impaired. If a finding of impairment is made, the Panel will proceed to consider the question of sanction. In more serious cases the Panel can consider whether to suspend your registration or erase you from the Register. If you are erased you will be prevented from seeking to re-register for a period of 5 years. It is important that if you are referred to the GDC you seek advice from a specialist lawyer.

Q. How do you avoid action being taken against your registration?

This will depend upon the circumstances of your case and each case will require a different approach. Each case will need to be carefully considered in order to determine whether allegations should be admitted or denied; the likelihood of avoiding a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise; and, if necessary, what mitigation needs to be presented to try and avoid one of the more serious sanctions being imposed. Our specialist lawyers can assist at all stages of proceedings before the GDC and guide you on the necessary steps which should be taken to maximise your chances of a positive outcome.