The General Dental Council (GDC) is changing its fitness to practise ‘Rule 4’ process as part of a nine-month trial.
The Rule 4 process provides GDC registrants with an opportunity to submit their comments in response to the concern that has been raised. The observations, if provided, are considered and included in the material used to determine whether the concern can be concluded by the case examiners or if it should be referred to a practice committee hearing.
The Rule 4 process currently allows 28 days for the registrant to provide any observations to the allegations.
In June 2019, the GDC consulted on changes to Rule 4.
Following the consultation, the GDC has now launched a nine-month pilot on the following Rule 4 changes:
- A 14-day extension, by application, to the Rule 4-time limit (28 days) for cases involving clinical concerns, where the individual has no other fitness to practise matters being actively considered
- Availability of clinical assessments earlier than the ‘Rule 4’ papers bundle, to facilitate efficient preparation of dental professional’s comments.
The GDC’s Executive Director for Fitness to Practise Transition, Tom Scott, said:
“We understand, and are sympathetic to, the time pressures faced by dental professionals and their representatives in the fitness to practise process.
“Extending the time frame in certain cases to ensure we receive the best possible evidence aligns with our view that case examiners need fully informing of all relevant facts as early as possible.”
The GDC stated that for the pilot to apply to a registrant’s case, the case must fall into the following category:
- Single patient concern - which raises concerns about the clinical care and treatment provided by the dental professional. Single patient concern will be clinical in nature, but may also have some concerns about conduct.
- Dental care professional (DCP) performance concern – concerns raised in relation to other professionals who are not dentists e.g. concerns regarding a DCP’s clinical ability e.g. dental nurse.
- Maintenance of practice, equipment and materials - concerns raised about practice maintenance, this may include equipment in the practice, cross infection control, and out of date medicine.
Why only single patient concern?
The pilot will only apply to single patient clinical concerns. There are calls for the pilot to be applied broader. However, the GDC said:
“Although the proposals were met with overall support, we also saw calls for the extension to apply to all cases and not just those of a clinical nature. However, in addition to enabling a measurable and well-defined pilot, we also need to consider impact on patient safety and timeliness of case progression. Therefore, at least for the pilot, the extension will remain focused on single patient clinical concerns. It’s also important to note that the pilot is complementary to the existing arrangements for extensions.”