Facing a complaint
This information is a guide to our procedures. It is important to get independent advice if you are facing a GDC investigation.
Read about What we investigate and How to report a dental professional.
When a complaint is received
A Casework Manager considers the information to see if it falls within the GDC’s remit. If so, they consider whether the complaint / information could raise a question of whether your fitness to practise could be impaired due to a health, conduct or performance issue. They may request further details from the informant.
They will consider whether to close the case at this stage and advise an informant to seek local resolution, as the allegation might be dealt with more appropriately by another body such as the NHS or the Dental Complaints Service.
However, if the information provided indicates that any one of our Standards for the Dental Team may have been breached, the case will be assigned to a Caseworker for investigation. It is important to remember that this does not mean that we think that you are guilty of the matter being raised, only that the issues which have been raised are sufficiently serious for us to look into them.
The Caseworker will write to you to inform you that we have received information about you, and that we are looking into it.
You will be asked for the following:
- evidence of your indemnity or insurance cover, such as a photocopy of your membership certificate;
- details of your current employer(s) and anyone to whom you are contracted to provide services;
- if the complaint relates to dental treatment, the patient’s dental records including radiographs or study models;
- if the information relates to your health, we may seek your consent to obtain information from your doctor, or ask that you undertake a medical examination.
What should I do?
Please contact your defence organisation, indemnity or insurance provider immediately. They can provide you with advice and assistance on our processes, and provide you with legal advice.
Please provide all of the information asked for by your Caseworker as soon as you can. Email is the quickest and most reliable means of getting in touch with your Caseworker and we are grateful to receive documents electronically whenever possible.
We are obliged by the Dentist’s Act to notify your employer that we are looking into information received about you and will do so upon receipt of their details. If you are an NHS practitioner, you may wish to contact your Primary Care Organisation/Health Board to inform them of our investigation. You may find that your contract obliges you to do this. Again, this is something your indemnity provider can advise you about.
Your Caseworker can also be contacted for advice on our procedures. Caseworkers are neutral investigators and are there to facilitate the process to ensure it is fair to all parties involved.
We recognise that receiving a letter from the GDC will be stressful and we are constantly working towards improving our process. At the end of the case, you will receive a feedback form about our service and this will allow you to provide comments on the service the Fitness to Practise team has provided.
Assessment of your case
When the Caseworker has completed their investigation, they will assess your case. They will conclude that either:
1) The complaint and / or information received does not raise an allegation that your fitness to practise may be impaired – the case will be closed.
2) The complaint and / or information received does raise an allegation that your fitness to practise may be impaired – the case will be referred to the GDC’s Case Examiners.
The assessment decision is always authorised by a Casework Manager.
If it is concluded that the case against you should be closed, you will receive a letter notifying you of this. We will have written to the informant to advise of our decision and the reasons for it. We may advise the informant of alternative means of resolving their complaint, which may be that they attempt to resolve the issue with you directly. Or if an informant is seeking compensation, we may advise them that they will need to seek legal advice about this. We will also notify of the outcome any employer who we notified of the investigation.
Referral to the Case Examiners
If the decision is made to refer the case to the Case Examiners you will be notified of the specific allegation(s) being made against you and will be given the opportunity to provide a written response (“observations”) to the allegation(s). We will also provide you with some helpful guidance about your referral to the Case Examiners. Again, you are strongly advised to contact your indemnity insurers for advice.
Your written observations will be sent to the informant for their comments. If your response includes personal or sensitive information which you feel ought not to be shared with the informant, it is important that you alert the Caseworker to this.
You will receive a complete copy of the case papers which will be presented to the Case Examiners.
Case Examiners Consideration
The Case Examiners are appointed GDC staff members with a statutory duty to make decisions at the conclusion of an investigation. Each case is considered by a pair of Case Examiners (one lay and one a dentist or dental care professional) who review all relevant evidence obtained during our investigation, including any evidence provided by the registrant in question or the informant.
The Case Examiners are not asked to make findings of fact in a case or come to substantive conclusions regarding a registrant's fitness to practise, but are instead asked to determine whether an allegation ought to be considered by a Practice Committee. The Case Examiners conduct a filtering process, closing some cases and referring others for a full hearing.
The Case Examiners can decide to:
to adjourn the case for further information
to close the case and take no further action
to issue a letter of advice to the registrant
to issue a warning to the registrant
to issue a warning to the registrant and direct that the warning should be published on the GDC website
to refer the case to the Interim Orders Committee
to ask the registrant to agree a series of undertakings on their registration
to refer the case to one of the three Practice Committees for a full inquiry
Referral to a Practice Committee
If the case is referred to a Practice Committee we will instruct our solicitors to investigate the case further and present the case at a public hearing. If you have not already done so, you should seek legal advice immediately.
Practice Committees can:
- close the case – impairment not found;
- issue a reprimand;
- impose conditions on a registrant's registration for up to three years; and
- suspend a registrant for up to 12 months.
The Committee can also erase a registrant for a minimum of five years (unless the case relates solely to health matters).
Interim Orders Committee
Your case can be referred to the Interim Orders Committee at any stage of the procedures. This Committee is able to suspend or impose interim conditions on your registration if there is an immediate need to protect the public or it is in the public interest or the interests of the registrant, pending the outcome of a case at a Practice Committee
Referral to the High Court
If you are erased, suspended, or have conditions imposed by a Practice Committee and wish to appeal the decision, you have 28 days in which to submit an appeal to the High Court. If the Court agrees it can send the case back to the Practice Committee. The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care
(PSA) has the power to appeal a Practice Committee decision if they consider that the outcome was unduly lenient.
Advice for unrepresented registrants
If you are undergoing fitness to practise proceedings, you are strongly advised to seek legal advice and/representation – speak to your defence organisation if you have one. If you do not have legal representation, we have prepared an Information Guide for Unrepresented Registrants, so that you know what to expect during the process.
Information Guide for Unrepresented Registrants
As part of our ongoing commitment to the health and wellbeing of our service users, we aim to identify vulnerable service users or those who may require additional support during the fitness to practise process. The support required may vary at each stage of the fitness to practise process and we will therefore review what additional support may be required as the case progresses.
Please do let your GDC contact know if you feel that there is any additional assistance that we can provide. We will keep information relating to health and wellbeing confidential in line with data protection legislation.
Such information may be shared with other organisations who can offer support but we will discuss this with you first before doing so. Witnesses and Informants should be aware that in limited circumstances the GDC may need to disclose information to the registrant facing fitness to practise proceedings and if you have any questions about that then please raise them with your GDC contact.
Registrants will appreciate that if there are any concerns about their health and wellbeing that may put patients at risk the information may be used in fitness to practise proceedings.