Campaigners Welcome Consultation On Indemnity But Say Proposals Will Not Deliver Justice For Patients

19 March 2013
Bridge the Gap campaigners have expressed relief that the government is finally set to strengthen regulation around insurance for dentists, but say it will not go far enough.

The Department of Health, on behalf of the four UK Health departments, has launched a consultation on legislation that would mean all regulated healthcare professionals – including dentists – will have to hold indemnity or insurance to practise. 

The UK wide consultation will run from 22 February to 17 May 2013.

The draft regulations will require all dental professionals to hold insurance or have indemnity arrangement as a condition of their registration with the relevant regulatory body. 

The vast majority of regulated healthcare professionals are in receipt of cover through their employers’ liability or via a professional body which offers an indemnity arrangement as a benefit of membership. 

However dentists, the vast majority of which are self-employed, have been individually responsible for ensuring appropriate cover is in place for all the work they undertake. The draft legislation will state that unless dentists can demonstrate that such arrangements are made they will be unable to be registered as healthcare professionals and so be unable to practise.

Chris Dean, spokesperson for the Bridge the Gap campaign, said: “This is good news for dental patients in the UK who will be better protected if this legislation is passed. The loophole which allows dentists to get away with not putting in place suitable indemnity cover will be finally closed.

“But unfortunately it goes nowhere near far enough in tackling the existing serious disregard for patients currently demonstrated by some indemnity providers. Unfortunately despite having been paid to provide insurance for dental negligence, some Insurers refuse to engage with dental patients who may have a justified case. These insurers use the excuse of a lack of instruction from the dentist in question, but this is of no help to the injured patients .”

The Department of Health has also given no indication in the consultation that information about indemnity provision for all 39,000 practising dentists in the UK will be in the public domain.

Chris again: “At the moment nobody knows which insurance company a dentist is insured with and when asked indemnity providers often choose not to tell patients, citing the Data Protection Act. The secrecy about insurance is not even under discussion in this consultation, which is very disappointing.”

Bridge the Gap campaigners are expected to contribute to the consultation and raise these issues.

They believe the problems are affecting increasing numbers of patients each year, but information is sketchy at best from the General Dental Council. (GDC).

Chris again: “The dental regulator does not routinely analyse the outcomes of its disciplinary proceedings, but we know that the GDC concluded 530 hearings and determinations between 2005 and 2012.

“Of those, 128 of the hearings involved dentists who either failed to co-operate with the formal proceedings and/or were found to have no professional liability cover while practising. 
“We think this is likely to be a very significant under-estimate of the total size of the problem as the GDC does not ask registrant dentists to show evidence of professional liability cover until a complaint is made. 

Based on the GDC figure of 128 dentists, taking the average dental patient list size as c 1750 patients the Bridge the Gap campaign estimates that approximately 224,000 dental patients have been at risk of being unable to bring a successful legal claim in the event of negligence since 2005.

Chris concluded: “We will be pressing the Department of Health for further consideration of issues beyond simply having indemnity cover at the start of registration period – namely the lack of public record and the failure of co-operation by insurance providers. Sadly dental patients will still be left high and dry if these proposals become law.”