Robert Kinloch, deputy chair of the BDA’s Principal Executive Committee, says he has never seen the profession more united
As we ponder the challenges facing dentistry in Scotland in the year ahead, I make no apologies for focusing on the issue that gripped dentists across the UK for the last six months of 2014 – culminating with the High Court ruling that the GDC had acted unlawfully on setting professionals fees.
It was the news we had all been waiting for, and I am really proud to have been on the BDA’s principal executive committee that agreed to launch this judicial review. But how can it be that although the GDC was deemed to have acted unlawfully, it was able to proceed with charging an outrageous ARF?
In normal circumstances, the BDA, as the successful claimant, could expect that having won its case, the ARF regulations would be quashed and dentists’ fee would revert back to £576. Only in very unusual circumstances would this not happen.
The GDC’s lawyers argued that these were such circumstances and that, therefore, even though the BDA had won the legal argument, relief should not be granted, citing the risk of ‘administrative chaos’ if the fees were quashed. This argument was rejected by our lawyers since the GDC was put on red alert by the BDA as far back as last July. It therefore had plenty of time to prepare alternative arrangements.
While Justice Cranston declined to reverse the fee, he was clearly troubled by the prospect of denying dentists their refund. So much so that he was at pains to stress that: “This is not in any way a pyrrhic victory for the BDA. They won this case and they won it decisively.” The judge went on to say, however, that: “I am troubled that the GDC acts in the public interest and must do its job.” It was this public interest argument that appeared to sway his decision.
Winning the battle but losing out on the fees is disappointing – we would have preferred to see dentists have the correct fee set correctly. And the GDC might appear to have got away without having to do the right thing.
But all’s not lost since a High Court judge has joined the queue of people saying that the GDC has acted improperly. He is in the company of the BDA, the Professional Standards Authority and the UK Government Under-Secretary for Health Dr Dan Poulter MP. Collectively, all these voices paint a very grim picture of the GDC’s conduct.
We are now asking the Westminster Health Select Committee to look into this very seriously as well as Ministers and the Professional Standards Authority (the regulators’ regulator). The SDPC has already made its concerns about the GDC known to the Scottish Government and we can look further to see how Holyrood could support us in this matter.
The conduct of the GDC with regard to the ARF has had a considerable impact on the confidence of the profession in its regulator, and the GDC will have to take major steps to rebuild.
While we may have been deprived of the entire outcome one would reasonably expect from winning the legal battle, we would never have got this far without that unequivocal strength of feeling and the willingness of the BDA to fight for justice on our behalf. As a member of the BDA’s principal executive committee I strongly endorsed this action, and in my 37 years in dentistry I have never seen the profession so unified.
Together we’ve proved that a ‘professional’ regulator has acted not simply unprofessionally, but unlawfully.
We’ve proved that we really are stronger together.