Incompetent dentists facing tough new curbs

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The Independent Online
Health ministers are preparing tough new disciplinary measures to curtail the activities of inadequate dentists who continue to work privately after being censured by disciplinary bodies following allegations against them over their NHS work.

Patients are alleged to have had metal dental instruments left inside their gums, healthy teeth destroyed by unnecessary treatment and been reduced to a diet of soup and soft foods. In other cases, dentists have claimed payment for work they have not done.

The measures, in a draft Bill which will form part of an amendment to the Dentists Act 1986, follow concern by the General Dental Council, the regulatory body for Britain's 30,000 dentists, that it does not have enough disciplinary powers.

The council is being asked to examine allegations concerning William Duff, a Glasgow dentist. Mr Duff who is in his thirties, until recently had a practice at Maryhill Road, Glasgow, and has now moved to Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire. Mr Duff was fined pounds 1,500 and struck off a list of NHS-approved dentists by Greater Glasgow Health Board last year for failure to maintain adequate records, but he can continue to work privately.

In its adjudication on the case of Moanne Russell, 33, the health board complained there were many discrepancies between Mrs Russell's treatment record and the form Mr Duff completed for NHS payment, and that he had claimed for work not completed.

Mr Duff's case is likely to go before the council's professional conduct committee. Last night, in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons, Maria Fyfe, the Labour MP for Glasgow Maryhill, argued that not enough is being done to safeguard patients who suffer lasting pain and disfigurement from shoddy dentistry.

She is concerned that the growth of the private sector is making the problem worse.

On Friday, a High Court judge granted permission for 92 patients jointly to pursue damages against dentist Barry Garrett, who now practises in Sale, Cheshire. If their complaints are upheld Mr Garrett could face damages claims of up to pounds 2m.

Last year, Mr Garrett, 48, was successfully sued for pounds 185,000 by eight patients who said he had carried out unnecessary treatment on their healthy teeth. Mr Garrett had been struck off by the General Dental Council in 1989 for serious professional misconduct, but was allowed to return to work two years later.

The court was told that patients he treated in Driffield, Humberside, were left traumatised. One victim, Jane Appleton, 25, had 99 tooth surfaces worked on unnecessarily. Dawn Eling, 29, had the broken end of a drill left in one of her teeth and complained that Mr Garrett had laughed after she told him he was hurting her. Her pounds 27,477 damages included pounds 6,000 pounds for psychiatric treatment.

Melanie Fenton, who endured 30 two-hour appointments with Mr Garrett said: "I want this man struck off once and for all. No one should ever be at risk of being put through what we've suffered."

Mr Garrett, who has a degree in dental surgery from Dundee University, was insured and will have all his legal costs paid for by the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland

Nigel Walshe, a solicitor and former patient of Mr Garrett, who has represented most of the victims after settling out of court himself for pounds 2,000, said: "The judge [in last year's case] recognised the gravity of what the dentist did, so now will the General Dental Council? And if not, why not?"

Stephen Hancocks, spokesman for the General Dental Council, said: "The measures in this draft Bill will give the council a variety of extra powers involved with suspension and will also allow greater flexibility."

He said the new measures would give greater protection to dental patients who had treatment outside the NHS. A non-NHS patients' complaints procedure is being set up. It is something that we have been asking for for years."

Currently, private patients who believe they have been victims of sub- standard dentistry can only seek redress through the civil courts. The draft Bill will be completed by the end of next month and will be subject to a period of consultation.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "It's all to do with powers to act against misconduct in the dental profession and will bring dentists into line with the tight guidelines already imposed on GPs."