The General Dental Council (GDC) has announced that its fitness to practise pilot will run until October 2024.

In September 2023, the GDC announced that it would be undertaking a six-month initial inquiries pilot. The pilot was due to end in April but will now be extended for a further six months to provide a larger data set for analysis and evaluation of performance over a longer period.

In addition to expanding the pilot’s runtime, the GDC has extended the criteria to include any registrant who had a concern raised about them more than 12 months ago and closed with no action before the case examiner stage.

The council said it has seen early positive signs from the pilot approach. Caseworkers have reported that dental professionals have been responsive to requests for patient records which is providing for significant reductions in the time it takes to close a case.

By the end of April, the GDC had opened 127 cases in the initial inquiries pilot and completed an assessment in 74 (58 per cent) cases. Of these, just eight cases (10 per cent) were referred to case examiners for a decision and all remaining cases were closed.

The average time taken to complete the assessment stage was 12 weeks, and the median 11 weeks. The regulator said it is working on performance measures to assess cases within 30 weeks.

The GDC added that it needed the continued cooperation of dental professionals for the approach to succeed.

Theresa Thorp, executive director of regulation, said, “The early signs look positive from our fitness to practise pilot, so we are pleased to extend and expand its scope. We know that investigations can be complex and lengthy, which can have an impact on the health and wellbeing of those involved.

“We are committed to improving our processes within the current legislation and we hope that, by working with others, we can continue to see improvements in timeliness without affecting the quality of investigation outcomes.”

John Makin, head of the DDU, said, “It is good to see that the GDC is at last responding to concerns about the duration and proportionality of its investigations. The extension of the pilot finally recognises the impact on the health and wellbeing of dental professionals and their families undergoing investigations.

“Of those pilot cases assessed to date, the very low percentage of cases where onward referral to case examiners was necessary shows that the majority of matters reported to the council do not amount to a fitness to practise concern.

“It remains a concern that so many registrants are unnecessarily exposed to enduring stress which is, of itself, tantamount to the imposition of a sanction. These improvements in the process are welcome, but do not alter our long-held view about unnecessary delays in the fitness to practise process. We also believe that the 30-week target the GDC has set for these cases to be assessed is far too long.”