In order to practice as a dentist in the UK, all dental care professionals must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC).
The GDC makes sure that all registered dentists meet the set criteria regarding training, qualifications and professional development. Currently the GDC relies on dentists to follow a code of ethics, which includes a clause regarding protecting patients by “making sure you are protected against claims at all times”.
However, there is no legal requirement for the registered dental professionals to have liability insurance or indemnity cover.
The GDC estimates that 98% of dentists should be insured, but they currently have no way of measuring or monitoring this.
This leads to a great deal of uncertainty regarding the number of dentists who are not insured or have indemnity cover. Therefore in some cases where a claim could be made, the patient is reliant on the dentists doing the “right” thing by indemnifying them for their losses. However there are many emerging stories of patients being left in pain and considerable debt due to dental treatment going wrong, with no form of redress.
The GDC does not have any safeguards or checking mechanisms in place to allow it to ensure that prospective or current registered dentists have insurance or indemnity cover of any type. The GDC does however have the power to retrospectively sanction dental professionals but this is very limited and does not help the injured patient.
Furthermore there is no obligation on the part of the dental professional to provide or make available details of his insurance at his Practice. The GDC will also not provide any information regarding the dental professional, if contacted by a patient, due to the Data Protection Act (1998). Therefore it is very difficult for a patient to ascertain whether a dental professional is covered in any way without raising it directly with the individual concerned.
An independent review, by Findlay Scott, of insurance or indemnity as a condition of registration as a healthcare professional, published in June 2010, resulted in a Government paper. This paper proposes that registered professionals should hold professional insurance or indemnity cover either in their own right or through their employers. However campaigners for “Bridging the gap” do not consider that the Government proposals go far enough and are campaigning to extend the responsibilities of dental professionals. One suggestion is to ensure that details of their insurance are clearly displayed and accessible. For further details regarding the Campaign to extend the proposals see http://www.btgcampaign.co.uk.
For the moment however, the loopholes allowing dentists to practice without insurance, remain.