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Health regulators reiterate support amid pandemic pressures

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Dental Protection says that there is growing concern that regulatory investigations will not consider the challenging circumstances under which dental professionals have been working during the pandemic. (Image: marikun/Shutterstock)
Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International

By Jeremy Booth, Dental Tribune International

Thu. 30. December 2021

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LONDON, UK: Providing health and social care during the pandemic has been fraught with challenges. As health services face ongoing pandemic and seasonal pressures, UK health regulators have issued a joint statement of support for health workers and have reassured them that the context behind complaints laid during the pandemic will be taken into account.

The joint statement by chief executives of ten statutory health and care regulators, including the General Dental Council (GDC), acknowledged that registrants are working in challenging circumstances and making difficult decisions relating to the provision of care. “[That] context is understood and will be considered by regulators,” the statement said.

It continued: “We recognise that in highly challenging circumstances, professionals may need to depart from established procedures in order to care for patients and people using health and social care services. Our regulatory standards are designed to be flexible and to provide a framework for decision-making in a wide range of situations.”

The regulators said that they recognised that registrants may have felt anxious when concerns were raised about decisions made in challenging circumstances but explained that factors relevant to the environment in which the registrant was working would be considered.

A Dental Protection survey conducted in October 2020 found that 40% of UK dentists surveyed listed fear of future investigations resulting from difficult decisions made during the pandemic as the greatest factor affecting their mental well-being.

“There has been a growing concern about the risk of regulatory investigation, and how actions and clinical interventions may be perceived in any future investigation” – Dr Raj Rattan, Dental Protection

Dental Protection welcomed the joint statement, writing in a note to the press that the GDC’s commitment would be well received but would also need to stand the test of time. The association’s dental director, Dr Raj Rattan, said that, throughout the pandemic, “dental professionals have told us about a range of issues that have been impacting their mental well-being—from concern for their patients, the health of their family, friends and colleagues, the impact of loss of income, and the challenges of adapting to new ways of working.”

Dr Rattan continued: “There has been a growing concern about the risk of regulatory investigation, and how actions and clinical interventions may be perceived in any future investigation if insufficient consideration is given to the impact of the pandemic. The risk is that hindsight bias is real because memories fade over time and it is important to safeguard against this.”

Dr Rattan said that ongoing reassurances from the GDC regarding the context behind complaints, together with supplementary advice developed for case examiners, would go some way towards reassuring dental professionals.

“Recognising that by the very nature of dental care, a complaint and subsequent investigation can arise several years after the event, it is crucial that the GDC’s guidance stands the test of time, lest the very real pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing disruption of care be forgotten,” Dr Rattan emphasised.

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