The Dentist Magazine.

GDC under fire as ARF remains unchanged during COVID-19 crisis

Published: 5/21/2020 12:00:00 AM

The General Dental Council (GDC) has come in for criticism from the profession for failing to be flexible in its registration payments amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The GDC made the announcement yesterday in an update sent out to all dental professionals.

It said that it will not make changes to the Annual Retention Fee (ARF) levels or introduce an emergency payment scheme to allow registrants to pay by instalments.

The British Dental Association (BDA) published an open letter to the Chair of the Council, Bill Moyes in an angry response.

It says that, with the profession now facing grave financial uncertainty, it laments 'failure by the regulator to show flexibility to colleagues, some of whom have seen their incomes fall to zero'

The BDA has also called for much-needed transparency in the process for setting the ARF.

BDA Chair Mick Armstrong said: 'Despite recognising the dire financial circumstances in which many practices and individual registrants find themselves, the GDC has not seen fit to provide even token support, citing no fundamental change to the work it does and the little financial impact the move would have on registrants.

'Greater transparency into the reasoning behind this decision would have been the very least response registrants should have received.

'But the message we are left with is "‘we need all the money and whatever we could do won’t really help you much".'

Meanwhile, other dental professional bodies also responded.

In a statement, the British Association of Dental Therapists writes: 'The British Association of Dental Therapists was one of many professional bodies who wrote to the GDC on 31 March requesting a deferment or instalment plan for the DCP ARF due in July this year.

'We highlighted the financial hardship that members had found themselves in after face to face dentistry was stopped, and that many associations and indemnity providers had given payment holidays to registrants to help ease the financial burden during this time.

'It is therefore exceptionally disappointing that the GDC has seen fit not to offer any sort of help to registrants.'

The Society of British Dental Nurses told its members: 'This is a huge disappointment to us. We have received a high volume of calls as a result of the GDC ARF announcement and have written to the GDC Council Chair voicing our concerns,' whilst the British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy wrote on its Facebook page: 'A disappointing message and decision by the GDC. BSDHT will be contacting GDC in regards to this.'

The British Association of Dental Nurses (BADN) is 'very disappointed' with the GDC decision.

President Jacqui Elsden said: 'Many dental nurses working in NHS and mixed practices have not been paid since February, despite their employers continuing to receive their NHS funding.BADN are constantly receiving calls and e-mails from general dental practice dental nurses who have been told by their employers that they will not be paid until the practices re-open.  Others are being told that they will have to forfeit their annual leave for this year and even next year to cover the period that the practice is closed.

'These dental nurses are angry and disillusioned at the way they have been treated by their NHS contract holder employers, the NHS and the GDC, and many will not return to  dental nursing.  Now that the GDC has refused to offer any assistance with regard to paying the ARF, many more dental nurses will be unable to renew their registration in July – many can't even feed their children at the moment, let alone find £114 to pay the GDC – and so will be unable to continue working as dental nurses from 1 August 2020. When practices do open, dentists, hygienists and therapists could find themselves without adequate dental nursing support.  Without the valuable support of dental nurses across the UK, towards the latter part of the year, many questions will be raised about patient safety.

'BADN, which is also dependent on fees for its funding, has nevertheless managed to temporarily cut its already low membership fee by 40% to allow dental nurses – the lowest paid members of the dental team even pre-COVID – to enjoy the benefits of membership. I am greatly saddened by the GDC's decision not to support dental nurses, and other registrants, at this very difficult time.'

A spokesperson for the GDC said:'The real solution to these issues is to achieve a safe return to treating patients – a goal we all share, and all have a part to play in. But while that remains uncertain, we still have to carry out our legal duties and we need to ensure that we have the financial resilience to do so. Our free reserves provide only limited cover and it would not be prudent to run them down.

'We know that the decisions not to reduce the ARF further, or to introduce an emergency instalment scheme, will not be welcome ones and they were not reached easily or lightly. But we continue to believe they were the right ones to take.'