Dental nurses face similar challenges and demands as other members of the dental team, and can feel isolated if they become involved in an adverse incident or complaint at their workplace. Because of this, it often makes sense for dental nurses to have their own membership with the DDU, and as a member they can have the reassurance of individual advice, assistance and support provided in their best interests.

The GDC says all members of the dental team, including nurses, 'must have appropriate arrangements in place for patients to seek compensation if they suffer harm' (paragraph 1.8, Standards for the Dental Team 2013). This means that dental nurses are required to have indemnity in order to work and will be asked to declare they have appropriate indemnity arrangements in place when they join the GDC register or renew their registration. The GDC recognises the following types of indemnity:

  • dental defence organisation membership: your own or indemnity provided through your employer's membership
  • professional indemnity insurance held by you or your employer
  • indemnity provided by NHS bodies.

Vicarious liability

DDU members who employ dental nurses and who pay the appropriate practice principal or practice owner subscription can request our assistance with vicarious liability claims arising from alleged avoidable negligent harm caused by an employed nurse. There is no limit on the number of nurses employed.

If you are employed by a practice, your employer is legally responsible for your acts and omissions during your employment, and in the event of a claim they would be financially liable for the legal costs and any patient compensation. This is known as employer's vicarious liability.

Any employee of an NHS Trust, such as dental nurses working in the Hospital Dental Service, should have indemnity provided by the NHS, but it is a good idea to confirm this with your employing trust. Nurses working in the Community Dental Service should also check the arrangements made by their employer to make sure they are adequate.

The GDC does say that you 'must not make any assumptions about whether or not you are covered by [your employer's] arrangements' and if you are relying on these you must check the position with them (GDC, Guidance on indemnity, June 2016). It is sensible for dental nurses to check with their employer what arrangements are in place before declaring that they have appropriate indemnity in place. Dental nurses employed by our practice principal or practice owner members can declare that they have indemnity in place when they register or re-register with the GDC.

Individual indemnity

Dental nurses can also join as individual members, and those employed by a DDU member qualify for a discount under our Dental Nurse Advantage Scheme. Dental nurse members are entitled to seek all the benefits of membership, including indemnity as well as assistance with GDC disciplinary actions or complaints arising from their clinical care, in their own right.

A dental nurse who is not an individual DDU member would not be entitled to seek any assistance with a GDC disciplinary action or to contact us for general dento-legal advice. For this reason we recommend all dental nurses should be members in their own right.

This may become particularly important when an incident has occurred at work and there is a potential conflict of interest between the principal employing dentist and the dental nurse. In these circumstances a dental nurse, as an individual member, will not have to rely on the principal's indemnity (for example, the cleaning fluid in water bottle incident mentioned elsewhere in this issue of the journal).

A dental nurse who is not an individual DDU member would not be entitled to seek any assistance with a GDC disciplinary action or to contact us for general dento-legal advice.

We positively encourage our members to contact us for advice, whether pre-emptively when they need guidance on how to approach a potential matter or when something has gone wrong, and we receive thousands of calls from members to our advice line every year.

Membership is provided on an occurrence basis, meaning that members retain the right to seek new or ongoing assistance with matters relating to incidents when their membership was active, even after membership has ended.

If you are a dental nurse and would like to join the DDU, call our free membership helpline on 0800 716 376 for more information.


This article was correct at publication on 19/04/2018. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Dr Sarah Ide

Sarah qualified from Guy's Hospital in 1992. Following house officer positions at Guy's she then entered general practice. She has an MSc in aesthetic dentistry from King's, and has recently given up part-time clinical practice in order to concentrate on a full-time role as a dento-legal advisor at the DDU.

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