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October 24th 2016

Dental Negligence

What do recent changes to the Register of Dental Professionals mean to patients?

Hayley Collinson

Hayley Collinson

Associate, Clinical Negligence

What do recent changes to the Register of Dental Professionals mean to patients?

By Hayley Collinson, Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors.

By Hayley Collinson, Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors.

Hudgell Solicitors represent an increasing number of clients who have suffered from poor dental treatment, with patients still unaware that it is a loosely regulated industry. This has left many not only at risk of receiving sub-standard treatment, but also facing potentially large bills for remedial work should their treatment go wrong. Increasingly, problems arise when the dental professional performing such treatments are untraceable or if they do not have the appropriate insurance in place when providing treatment.

At a General Dental Council (GDC) meeting on the 5 October 2016, the Council agreed that from 10 October 2016, all postal address details will be removed from the online registrar of dental professionals.

Patients will still be able to search the register for dentists via http://www.gdc-uk.org/pages/searchregisters.aspx however; the registration number will be the primary method to identify a registered dental professionals going forward.  The register will no longer provide postal address and location details of dental professionals.

As a result of this change, dental professionals need to display their registration number prominently where patients can see them.

This change is in keeping with other professional healthcare regulators and whilst patients should easily be able to trace dental professionals to a specific dental practice through the use of a search engine, it may make it more difficult to locate uncooperative dental professionals when contemplating a dental negligence claim.

Dental Professionals have indemnity or insurance in place so that patients can claim any compensation to which they are entitled. This has always been part of the Standards and in July 2014 a law was passed meaning all registered healthcare professions are now legally required to have indemnity cover.  Another change made by the General Dental Council has been that in order for dental professionals to renew their registration with the GDC, they are required to declare that they have the necessary indemnity or insurance in place.

Whilst the GDC will require dental professionals to make a declaration confirming their insurance position, it remains unclear whether the GDC would provide details of a dental practitioners indemnity details via a Data Protection request should the dentist be uncooperative.

We at Hudgell Solicitors do welcome the recent changes regarding requiring dentists to declare they have indemnity and we hope this will limit situations were dental professionals practice without appropriate cover in place. Although this is rare, it is a situation as a firm who assists many clients with dental claims, we come across from time to time.

It remains a concern of mine that defence organisations will only act/represent and liaise with Claimant Solicitors once the Defendant dentist instructs them. If the dentist fails to notify the indemnity provider then this can cause difficulties and tends to arise if the dentist moves abroad.  This can often lead to a loop hole in the law similar to when a dentist practices without indemnity cover.  If we cannot trace the dentist due to them moving abroad and determine who the dental defence organisation is then a claim may fail despite having reasonable prospects of success.

In circumstances when the dentist resides in the UK but is uncooperative or does not have appropriate insurance or indemnity we can consider pursuing the dental professional direct. This means that any award of compensation and legal costs would need to be recovered directly from the dental professional.  If the potential Defendant does not have the means to pursue then there is a real risk that even if a claim for dental negligence is successful, a patient would not be able to recover the compensation and may find enforcing any judgement obtained will not be straight forward.  Whilst this is rare, I have had cases that we have had to close on the basis the Defendant dentist was considered to be a Man of Straw.

It is scandalous that a patient can be left without a remedy; it stresses the issue that patients should ensure that they seek legal advice as soon as possible to avoid issues with missing dentists, if they feel their treatment has been substandard. Furthermore, when considering pursuing a claim I would recommend that patients make enquiries about the dentist(s) involved prior to seeking legal advice as this assists in assessing the claim.  We also still recommend that patients still consider pursuing a claim, even if the dentist has left the practice they attended, has retired, been struck off or moved abroad as it does not necessarily mean that a claim cannot be pursued.

Thankfully, in the vast majority of dental claims that Hudgell Solicitors deal with, the Defendant dental professional is traced and their dental defence organisation or indemnity provider are instructed.

I would recommend anyone who is concerned about their dentist or treatment provided, to search the GDC registrar/pursue a formal complaint through the dental practice or to seek legal advice. Hudgell Solicitors are happy to advice potential clients, free of charge, regarding pursuing a dental negligence claim.

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