By Dimple Raja, Solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors
A trip to the dentist can be a frightening experience for many people.
For some, their worst fears are realised when they discover they have been provided with poor treatment and face having to pay a considerable sum for their remedial treatment.
So, what can you do if this happens to you?
One option is to pursue the dental practice’s complaints procedure, and or pursue a dental negligence claim against the dentist.
Currently, there is no legal requirement for dentists to have professional insurance. However, the General Dental Council (GDC), which regulates the profession, recommends practising dentists maintain adequate professional indemnity or insurance.
Although there majority of dentists do this, there are a few rogue dentists who do not.
As it stands, there are approximately 39,500 dentists registered on the GDC website and it is not known how many of these are uninsured. It is thought that several hundred dentists may not be.
But how many of us think about checking to see if our dentist is insured before we have any treatment?
I know I certainly don’t, and neither did a client who instructed me to pursue a dental negligence claim on her behalf.
My client had been fitted with an ill-fitting bridge which cost her approximately £2,000 and during the treatment, she suffered damage to two healthy front teeth.
As a consequence of the negligent treatment, my client required root canal treatment and crowns at her lateral incisor (lower left 2) and first premolar (lower left 4). The root canal treatment cost was £750+ per tooth. The crowns will require replacement around every 12 years at a cost of approximately £700+ per crown.
Upon investigating the claim however, we discovered that not only had the dentist failed to maintain proper insurance, but also he had left the country and emigrated to South Africa.
It tuned out that there was a string of complaints against this dentist, and the GDC held a Disciplinary Hearing where other allegations were heard, including poor care administered to his patients over his many years of practice.
Following this, he was registered on the GDC website with warnings. This was of little comfort to my client who required remedial treatment immediately and had to find the money for this. Likewise the other patients who were harmed by him.
So what can you do in this situation like this?
- Check to make sure your dentist is insured – prevention is much better.
- Pursue the dentist personally, but note this is a whole different process to dealing with an insurer.
The problem is that the GDC only recommend that dentists should have dental insurance. There is no legal requirement for them to do so. The GDC do not check up on dentists to see if they have in fact taken out insurance. Nor can they help you deal with the problem of dentists that are not co-operative and those who you cannot contact.
This has become more common because younger dentists are more mobile and move from practice to practice. Approximately one third of dentists in the UK are trained abroad. The trend is that they practice in the UK for a few years and then leave the UK and return back to their country of origin. If a dentist leaves the country, there is not much the patient can do.
Is there a solution?
A simple solution would be for the GDC to make it a requirement for all dentists to provide proof of their insurance before they can register or renew their registration.
An alternative solution is that an organisation is set up equivalent to the motor insurance bureau which provides redress for victims of accidents involving uninsured drivers. This will bridge the gap for those who have suffered injuries or damage as a result of dental negligence, and do not have the means to fund the cost of remedial treatment.
There are plans to bring in legislation which will make insurance a legal requirement, but it is not clear when this is set to come into effect.
This will mean that a dentist will need to disclose to the GDC that they have the necessary cover in place before they can register or renew their registration. The dentist will still not be required by the GDC to provide proof of their professional indemnity, and I suspect there will be a few dentists who will continue to exploit the system.
This is why an uninsured Dental Scheme would be a worthwhile safety net.