Dental patients across the UK are being tasked by the General Dental Council (GDC) to challenge their dentists about insurance before receiving treatment.
The latest advice to tens of thousands of people from the standards regulator has been met with dismay by patient rights campaigners.
The suggestion by the GDC is being widely seen as a misguided attempt to defuse public concern over the issue of insurance for dentists, which is currently not mandatory in this country.
Members of the public have been sent a guidance leaflet from the GDC encouraging them to discuss the issue with their dentist, so that if something goes wrong they can be sure compensation is available.
According to the fact sheet from the GDC, patients should be confident that the vast majority of dentists will have measures in place, even though the GDC does not insist on it.
Bridge the Gap campaigners, who are fighting for a change in the law to make it a legal requirement to have insurance or indemnity, were incredulous.
“This beggars belief,” said campaign head David Corless- Smith. “The GDC is always trying to get someone else to take responsibility. Dentists are urged to ‘make sure’ they do the right thing by their patients. Now the GDC is proposing that the public should do the job of insurance checking. Why doesn’t the GDC itself make sure that every patient is fully protected – surely that is the job of a regulator.
He continued: “The irony is even if the patient plucks up courage to ask a dentist about insurance, the dentist – under current UK law – can quite reasonably say I don’t have any formal arrangements, but I will make good any mistakes through my own means. He is allowed to do that by the GDC, but nobody checks whether he can or can’t until a claim is underway.
“So is that reassuring to a patient? We don’t think so.”
Dr Anthony Halperin, a dentist and former chair of the Patients Association and present dental adviser, was also surprised and dismayed by his governing body’s advice.
“The GDC should not be making patients responsible for what is the primary duty of the GDC. The failure of the GDC to make sure all dentists are insured before issuing them with practising certificates has still not been addressed although known as a problem by the GDC for a number of years.
“Patients would be astonished to know that car insurance is compulsory, but not dentist’s cover for accidents or malpractice.”
David Corless Smith again: “If the GDC are going to pass the buck to anyone why not challenge dental practice principals and task them with checking that their associates are insured. This would considerably reduce the number of uninsured dentists or at least make the practice principle liable to the patient if a dentist does not have insurance. At the moment they take no responsibility. ”
According to BTG campaigners over 215,000 people have been put at risk by uninsured dentists in the UK in the last seven years.
European-wide legislation on the issue is expected to take effect in a year’s time.
David Corless-Smith again: “It can’t come too soon. There are far too many people currently suffering from dentists who have been allowed to do anything but ‘make sure’ they were properly covered to practise. No badly thought-through public Q and A will change that.”