In recent times much has been written, both in print and on social media, about the indemnity options available to dental professionals. However, when I'm out and about meeting colleagues it's apparent that some are still unsure about the differences between the various products and providers.

As you are reading this article, the likelihood is that you are already a valued DDU member - but if not, perhaps I can explain why you might wish to join the family.

In the last edition of the DDU journal I talked about the climate of fear that had developed within the profession, and sought to allay colleagues' fears by explaining that with careful risk management, the likelihood of a career changing dento-legal event is exceptionally low.

Despite this, there remains a possibility of complaints, claims or regulatory action, and so the prudent practitioner will want to not only comply with the GDC requirement to have indemnity in place to protect patients in the event of a claim, but also to protect themselves, their reputation and livelihood should they be subjected to criticism.

As dental professionals we spend a significant amount of our time setting out to patients their dental needs and explaining the treatment options open to them in terms they can understand. In my view, the art of dental communication is for a practitioner to successfully bridge the gulf in knowledge between themselves and the patient so that the consultation leads to the patient wanting what they need.

That 'buy-in' from the patient is incredibly important, as with it comes the co-operation and compliance likely to lead to a successful treatment outcome. The importance of that informed choice for patients is mirrored by the need for those treating them to fully understand the indemnity that protects their interests.

So what are the options? Broadly speaking, the first is to be a member of a defence organisation such as the DDU. The second is to buy an insurance policy from a commercial provider. We explain the difference between discretionary indemnity and insurance more fully elsewhere in this issue.

The MDU, of which the DDU is the specialist dental division, is the world's first medical defence organisation, and was established in 1885 following outrage in the medical community over the case of Dr David Bradley, who was wrongly convicted of assaulting a woman in his surgery. Although the doctor later received a full pardon, he spent eight months in prison. In today's parlance we might consider this a very early example of 'crowd funding'.

The MDU was, and still is, a mutual organisation owned by our members. Few organisations that were around in 1885 still exist under the same ownership today. The MDU does - and we're proud of our rich history of guiding, supporting and defending our members. We are proud of our heritage, but we are always looking forward, shaping our products and services to meet the changing needs of the profession.

The art of dental communication is for a practitioner to successfully bridge the gulf in knowledge between themselves and the patient...

Elsewhere in this journal we set out the details of the new associate agreement review service, the introduction of which demonstrates that we are listening to members about their needs and concerns and are extending and adapting our service to meet those needs. We have seen a worrying increase in GDC cases for members arising from business, financial and contractual disputes where one or both parties has taken it upon themselves to involve the GDC.

Using one's regulator as leverage in a business dispute is both disappointing and unwise - such cases commonly end in tears for both parties. An associate agreement should ideally strike a careful balance between protecting the interests of both the practice owner and the associate. In our view, it is in the interests of both parties to have a balanced agreement in place, as this should reduce the likelihood of disputes and contribute to a healthy working relationship.

DDU advisers are all experienced practitioners and between them have many years of practice experience across a wide range of dental disciplines. Members know that when they call or write in for advice and guidance they will be supported by an empathetic colleague who understands their needs and feelings.

Our members can look to us with confidence both now and many years down the line, and in the last three years we met 99.6% of requests for assistance. The situations where we are and are not likely to assist are clearly set out in our member guide, which is available on the DDU website.

Our defence of members is robust, and in almost 70% of claims cases no indemnity payment was made, despite the fact that such cases are often carefully selected by specialist law firms who are unlikely to take on a case with a low chance of success. We always seek our members' permission before settling a case on their behalf.

DDU app

Insurance may, superficially at least, seem a cheaper option, but there are a number of questions to ask to make sure it meets all your needs now and in the future. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted to have once said, 'the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.'

Dental claims can arise many years after the event and practitioners will wish to be confident that the provider of their indemnity is still likely to be operating in that sector when needed, and that there are no 'small print' exclusions they may fall foul of. After all, the small print wouldn't be there if there was no intention to rely upon it.

In summary, in the same way you do your utmost to act in the best interests of your patients, so too do we do our utmost to meet the needs of our members, guiding them to preventively manage risk, supporting them with advice and empathy, and defending them when they are subjected to criticism.

If you have queries about any aspect of indemnity provision, please don't hesitate to contact me or a member of my team. It's too important a topic to have any doubts.

John Makin

Head of the DDU

John Makin BDS PgDL PgCDE FHEA is head of the DDU. He qualified in Manchester in 1983 and has worked as a general dental practitioner in Lancashire and Devon before joining the DDU as a dento-legal adviser. He was involved with foundation training for many years as both a trainer and VT adviser/training programme director with the Manchester and Exeter DFT schemes. 

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