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Man takes his own life after botched dental work caused 14 years of pain

Clive Worthington, 81, had trouble chewing and swallowing following failed treatment to give him dental implants and a fitted denture

Debbie Luxon
Tuesday 14 February 2023 12:27 GMT
Clive Worthington, 81, took his own life blame botched dental work that lead to 14 years of pain
Clive Worthington, 81, took his own life blame botched dental work that lead to 14 years of pain (Gina Tilly / SWNS)

A granddad took his own life after botched dental work that lead to 14 years of pain, his family claims.

Widowed father-of-two Clive Worthington, 81, suffered from a misaligned bite and trouble chewing and swallowing following failed treatment to give him dental implants and a fitted denture.

The retired woodworker from Harlow, Essex, also suffered from repeated gum infections, constant gum pain, headaches and a deviated jaw.

He lost weight from not being able to eat and stopped going out.

He was being treated for anxiety and depression which he said was a direct result of “prolonged and failed treatment” by one private dentist.

Mr Worthington then took his own life after he had spent an estimated £20k in dental and legal costs.

And despite being awarded more than £117k compensation, he died without receiving a penny as a result of a legal loophole.

His distraught daughter Gina Tilly is now pursuing justice for her father, having helped him in the final stages of his legal case.

Gina, 43, a mum of one from London, said: “He was constantly going to dentists and asking if they can do anything for him.

“It was a complete mess. In the end, he just knew he wasn’t going to get the help he wanted.

“Every time he felt like he was getting somewhere with his health or with the compensation claim – it just felt like too much to navigate.

“These big old organisations make you feel powerless.

“I knew he’d been struggling, he was having a really hard time. I knew something was wrong but it was still a shock.”

Clive Worthington’s daughter Gina Tilly is now pursuing justice for her father, having helped him in the final stages of his legal case. (Gina Tilly / SWNS)

Tearing up, she said: “It’s completely devastated us. My daughter doesn’t know all the details. It’s just really terrible.

“Dad was one of ten children, so when this happened it wasn’t just about him, it had a big ripple effect.”

His ordeal started when Mr Worthington flew to Hungary in 2008 to get dental implants and a fitted overdenture from Perfect Profiles dentist Dr Eszter Gömbös, after his ordinary denture was causing him pain and discomfort.

The new denture wasn’t fitted properly which led to chipping and cracks in the denture along with repeated infections around the implants and in the gums.

Mr Worthington continued to see Dr Gömbös at one of Perfect Profile’s British branches, receiving replacement after replacement dentures and dental bridges, adding more dental implants, which caused Worthington increasing levels of pain and discomfort until 2015.

In September 2015, Dr Gömbös admitted to Mr Worthington that she was “at the end of her expertise”, giving him a dental tool and asking him to take it to another dental professional.

She also instructed him to seek compensation from her insurers.

He did so and took a complaint to the General Dental Council (GDC), being told the investigation would take up to six months.

It wasn’t until May 2017 that the GDC found Dr Gömbös guilty of several acts of misconduct in her treatment of Mr Worthington.

She was allowed to continue practising under several conditions, including needing supervision and declaring to any future employers of her misconduct when working in the UK.

Mr Worthington was awarded compensation but it still hasn’t been paid (Gina Tilly / SWNS)

It wasn’t until four years after Mr Worthington’s case was first raised that he was awarded compensation.

In November 2019, Dr Gömbös was instructed to pay him £86,495.62 in damages and £30,882.80 in costs, to be paid within 14 days.

But it wasn’t paid. The £117,378.42 he was owed wasn’t paid when he took his life in September last year and has still not been paid.

That’s because of a legal loophole called “discretionary indemnity”.

Dr Gömbös was insured by the Dental Defence Union (DDU), a membership organisation that supplies discretionary indemnity to cover their members for things such as conduct hearings and compensation claims against them.

The DDU decided not to pay out the large sum of money Mr Worthington was owed, which was up to their “discretion” to do without explaining why.

As Dr Gömbös is alleged to be no longer based in the UK, it is making the legal process harder for the family.

The GDC, which registers dentists working in the UK, requires dentists to have “appropriate” indemnity cover, but includes “discretionary indemnity” in that definition of “appropriate”.

The GDC’s defence is that it is simply following the law which includes discretionary indemnity as an option, but Dr Chris Dean and Gina Tilly disagree.

Dr Dean is the managing director of the Dental Law Partnership, a dentist and solicitor himself who has supported countless clients who have lost out under discretionary indemnity.

He explained: “The underlying legal basis for the GDC’s position is the amended Dentists Act 1984, requiring ‘appropriate cover’ for dentists including membership of mutual insurance (such as the DDU which is a membership organisation) as an option.

“The GDC say because it’s the legislation, that’s enough. We say the GDC is interpreting the phrase ‘appropriate’ as allowing discretionary cover to also count as suitable- when it is blatantly not.

(Gina Tilly / SWNS)

“The GDC don’t want to remove discretionary cover from their list of ‘appropriate’ cover.”

He added: “The problem lies with the acceptability of dentists being members of a mutual society by the GDC as amounting to appropriate indemnity cover.

“These unregulated mutual societies are more than 100 years old, and they come from a time when dentists knew best, as doctors and dentists clubbed together to support themselves and protect themselves in these.”

After a compensation claim is turned down under a discretionary cover, Dr Dean says there are “no more routes to go down” unless you can chase the individual dentist’s assets, such as liquid funds, their house or their car.

The GDC is the regulator for dentists, which means Gina is now stuck in a legal loophole.

Dr Dean says if the GDC changes its position on discretionary indemnity now, it opens itself up to litigation by unhappy claimants like Mr Worthington’s family and other clients of his.

He said: “If the GDC won’t act on this, the government needs to, and quickly.”

Gina said: “I want to make sure no one else has to go through what our family has gone through.

“I’m still yet to understand how this is allowed to happen. It appears the GDC has chosen to support unregulated dentist societies over the patients it is supposed to protect.”

The GDC’s motto is “protecting patients, regulating the dental team”.

Gina added that her father who was a joyful and social man lost all social life after his failed dental treatment: “The main problem was the pain.

“He stopped going out and doing the things he loved.

“He couldn’t sleep from the pain. I rarely saw him without him mentioning it. He was somebody who made everybody laugh.”

The GDC won’t comment on individual cases but said: “Patients must be able to seek compensation in the rare event that something goes wrong in their dental care.

“It is deeply frustrating that weaknesses in the current legislation caused the system to fail in this instance.

“We encourage the Department of Health and Social Care to accelerate their work to review and update the existing provisions, which we as regulator can then apply.”

The DDU commented: “We are unable to comment on individual cases.

“We would however point out that the DDU is part of a not-for-profit mutual membership organisation which provides its members with indemnity for clinical negligence claims for treatment provided in the UK and Ireland.

“It is rare that we are unable to offer our members support: over the past five years we have assisted well over 99.5 per cent of members who have approached us for support with claims and other legal matters.”

Dr Gömbös and Perfect Profiles have been contacted for comment.

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