CEO and Registrar of the General Dental Council, Evlynne Gilvarry, is to step down at the end of January 2016

After over five years as its Chief Executive and Registrar, Ms Gilvarry has decided to leave the GDC. Perhaps she has finally taken the advice of Robert Jenrick MP, who asked whether she thought she should resign following a lamentable year for the regulator.

That was when she and GDC Chairman Bill Moyes were facing a Parliamentary Health Select Committee Hearing in March this year. Jenrick asked both Moyes and Gilvarry how they could continue in their roles, given the profession’s lack of faith and ongoing issues with the GDC.

The same year saw the Professional Standards Authority audit, rate the GDC as the worst performing health regulator in the UK. The worst out of nine.

The GDC would have us believe that Evlynne has bravely led the GDC through a time of substantial change. It states that she has equipped it to manage a very substantial growth in workload. This is something she and her team funded by increasing dentists’ mandatory ARF by a stunning 64% in December 2014, raising it to £890, the highest ARF rate paid by any UK health professional.

In fact the ARF hike took place after a consultation process that was later found to be illegal in the High Court, something that Ms Gilvarry later admitted was true, then claimed the dental profession has the wrong perception of what GDC does. The consultation may have been illegal but the judge allowed the ARF hike to go ahead regardless. And complaining dentists paid up rather than be struck off.

In its rhapsodic farewell to her the GDC also says Ms Gilvarry successfully made the case for legislative changes that mean − from 2016 − the GDC’s ever increasing volume of Fitness to Practise procedures will become more “efficient and effective”.

They’ll need to be. FtPs are out of control due to the rocketing number of patients’ complaints made against dentists. Hang on though, if complaints are such a problem that dentists have had to suffer a punitive ARF increase to fund the resultant FtPs, then why did the GDC take out a full page ad in the Telegraph informing patients how to go about it?
Ms Gilvarry said it was because the Council believed it had a duty of care to make sure all telegraph readers knew how to complain if they needed to. Oh, okay.

Farewell and adieu

Responding to her resignation Bill Moyes has said he would like to thank Evlynne for her very valuable contribution and commitment over a period of immense challenge for the organisation.

Ms Gilvarry replied: "It has been a privilege to lead the organisation for the last five years and I have greatly enjoyed working with so many talented and dedicated colleagues.”

The British Dental Association would beg to differ. Just recently it expressed grave concerns that the GDC is attempting to extend its remit well beyond the duties given to it by Parliament, in its response to the Council’s consultation on its corporate strategy for 2016-19.

The GDC, a largely lay organisation, has proposed it take a role in “improving the quality of dental care”, extends the role of the Dental Complaints Service, and considers the development of “quality metrics” in dentistry. It would also want to “enable patients to find out more about their dental professionals from the register”.

In its response the BDA has called on the GDC to focus exclusively on working within the powers required by statute plus improving its performance in relation to the PSA’s Standards of Good Regulation and the principles of right-touch regulation. The BDA has accused GDC regulation of being out-of-date, over-complicated and expensive.

In other words, before you start poking around in what we do shouldn’t you put your own house in order first?

It wants the GDC to keep its costs down and only charge dentists an ARF sufficient to carry out its statutory functions, accusing the GDC of hoarding its registrants’ money. The BDA also wants the GDC to listen to the feedback it currently receives so that, over time, it can regain the trust of and work in partnership with the profession and other stakeholders, something it has signally failed to do under the guidance of Ms Gilvarry and Dr Moyes.

Mick Armstrong, Chair of the British Dental Association, has said: “We need to see a clear focus on the fundamentals. That means protecting patients, building firm foundations, not succumbing to inexorable mission creep.

“Too many regulators have lost the confidence of their professions. Effective independent regulation requires trust, and rebuilding that will mean genuine engagement, not just lip service.”

When the GDC came bottom of the league in a PSA assessment of the performance of nine healthcare regulators, it had failed to meet a total of seven of its standards of good regulation.

On FtP, the Council fully met only one of the 10 standards, and failed to meet six others, representing what the PSA describes as a significant decline in its performance compared to an assessment carried out in 2013/14.

The jury couldn’t decide on whether the GDC had met two additional standards on fitness to practise pending an ongoing inquiry by the PSA into whether the GDC’s activities in this area are “transparent, fair, proportionate and focused on public protection”.

Mick Armstrong, said: “The findings in relation to fitness to practise come as little surprise as stories of waste, mismanagement and unreasonable practices abound.

“It is difficult to understand how badly the GDC has to perform before someone actually intervenes. A regulator that fails critical tests, loses the confidence of those it regulates and is defeated in court should not be able to act with impunity.”

During the Parliamentary Health Select Committee Hearing, Moyes said in his defence that it wasn’t the dental team as a whole who had problems with the GDC, just members of the BDA. Now while it’s true that not every dentist is a member it is also true that about 90% of them are, and they have been 100% supportive of everything their association has been doing in bringing the GDC to book.

Moyes also pointed out that he hadn’t been in the Chair when most of the bad things happened over the last five years. He was sitting next to Ms Gilvarry at the time − the woman who had been Chief Executive during that period − and was effectively throwing her to the lions. Remember that when you read his kind words about her.

Evlynne Gilvarry has made her very distinctive mark on dentistry, and, perhaps, dentistry has made its mark on her. It is unlikely many members of the profession will shed a tear when she carries her cardboard box of personal belongings out through the doors of 37 Wimpole Street for the last time at the end of January, but she will probably feel several tonnes lighter when she finally drops that toxic mantle of office.

Will the next incumbent pick up the challenges left awkwardly flapping in the breeze by Ms Gilvarry? Will they address the problem of dentists ignoring the statement of manufacture? Will they regulate to make dentists who use illegal labs culpable by working with CQC? Will they work with MHRA to clear the path for legal milling in practice? In other words will they build a regulatory body that is fairly funded, transparent, and ethically aware that pays more than just lip service to caring for all its registrants and patients?

Fingers crossed, but don’t hold your breath.