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Academics have led an international review to help the UK dental regulator define what constitutes ‘serious misconduct’ within the profession. 

Commissioned by the General Dental Council (GDC), the team from the University of Plymouth reviewed how regulators from across international health and business sectors – from nursing to law – deal with misconduct at varying levels. 

The findings will support the GDC’s work to develop its fitness to practise (FTP) procedures, to increase the process efficiency for the benefits of both patients and practitioners.

Reaching as far as the USA and New Zealand, the review encompassed websites and existing literature, and explored:

  • how professional regulators define misconduct
  • how they consider aggravating and mitigating factors
  • factors informing regulators’ decision-making around serious misconduct
  • political and social contexts influencing changes to regulators’ decision-making. 

Among its findings were that regulators commonly offered broader definitions of misconduct, pointing to the necessity of considering the details of each individual case in order to decide whether a professional’s actions do or do not constitute misconduct.

In addition, the review found that there were differing approaches towards the extent to which professionals’ behaviour in their lives outside the workplace should fall under the purview of their professional regulator – and this seems to be an area where approaches differ and are currently in flux.

The review, entitled Fitness to practise: Impairment and Serious Misconduct, A narrative synthesis review was conducted by researchers in the University’s Collaboration for Advancement of Medical Education Research and Assessment (CAMERA) and Peninsula Dental School.

Lead author Dr Marie Bryce, Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, said: 

“As much as dentistry is health-based and relates very much to the safety and wellbeing of the patient, the role often involves a business side too so its regulation and procedures have to reflect this. The review came from questions such as ‘How do other professions look at the boundary between public and private misconduct?’ and ‘What is classified as serious?’."

“We found that health professions regulation is often particularly highly developed, due to the potential risk to the public of the work that health professionals undertake, and the potentially vulnerable position of patients in relation to the health care professionals with whom they interact. We also found that health professions regulators can learn from each other and from regulatory approaches in other sectors, through exploration of varying approaches, but more work needs to be done to analyse whether regulators are drawing upon this knowledge base effectively to develop their approaches.”

Professor Christopher Tredwin, Head of Peninsula Dental School, said: 

“Dentistry is a great profession to go into, and it’s important that everyone within it upholds the best standards of practise possible. It’s fantastic to see Plymouth leading the review that will help inform the national fitness to practise procedure for dentists, and shows how our research, from laboratories to policy, really spans the breadth of the profession.

Collaboration for the Advancement of Medical Education Research and Assessment (CAMERA)

We seek to inform assessment across medical education through funded collaborative research that impacts on the international literature, educational theory, practice and policy at Plymouth, nationally and internationally.

CAMERA brings together a research group dedicated to the improvement of healthcare through evidence based education.

Learn more about CAMERA's research

Dental research

There is a growing understanding of the interactions between oral and systemic health and the importance of taking an holistic approach to health research, promotion and service provision. 

Oral health is a key domain of general health.

Find out more on our research pages
Dental research
Dental therapy and hygiene