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Does the dentistry industry need stronger regulation to protect patients from poor standards of care?

When the chair slowly reclines and the dentist hovers over you ready to start their work, just how confident are you of their ability, and the standard of work they carry out?

Perhaps more importantly, what do you really know about your dentist, their background, experience, and where you would stand legally should you feel your treatment has not been up to the standard expected.

Of course, most of us leave our dentist without ever questioning our treatment. We are happy to leave it to the experts, and as long as it proves a relatively painless experience, we feel confident all is as it should be.

However, in recent research, the dental industry has not scored very high on overall patient satisfaction. In fact, it says one in four said they were unhappy with their dental care.

Given our work at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, as specialists in handling many medical negligence and dental negligence claims, such figures are not surprising.

We represent an increasing number of clients who have suffered from poor dental treatment – often leaving them in pain – and our work in this area has brought a situation of real concern to our attention.

Claims against negligent dentists are on the rise, with hundreds of patients nationally suffering faulty work or surgery from a dentist who has then refused to cover the cost of repairs.

This leaves patients at risk of having to pay out thousands of pounds for repair work or live with the consequences of the errors made.

This is happening due to a loophole in regulations. Yes, all dentists have to register with the General Dental Council, and an independent regulator carries out inspections, but the rules are lax, making it easy for many to operate without indemnity.

Recent research estimated that more than one million people are being treated by dentists who are not covered for repair work if something goes wrong, and General Dental Council and Government statistics say more than 20 dentists fail to turn up to disciplinary hearings every year.

This, combined with an increasing number of horror stories from patients, is particularly worrying, and therefore makes it highly surprising to hear the Care Quality Commission (CQC), England’s regulator, talking of inspecting only 10 per cent of the 10,000 NHS practices in the UK over the next year, rather than the 44 per cent previously assessed.

The CQC says this move is due to the “lower risk from dental care”, but given the figures being quoted, it is hard to see how this conclusion has been drawn.

We have major concerns about an overall lack of regulation and accountability in the dentistry profession, and a move to further relax regulatory procedures seems a highly questionable one.

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