Few professions are as rewarding as dentistry or offer so much variety in terms of the people you meet, the career paths available, or the opportunities to test your clinical knowledge, technical skills and creativity.

But I am also conscious that times have changed since I entered practice 34 years ago. Today, dental practice is a more challenging and high-pressured environment. There are many reasons for this, but high on the list is the pressure to meet patients' expectations. It can feel demanding and stressful, especially with the potential for a complaint, GDC investigation or claim if something is perceived to have gone wrong.

While professional standards remain high, dental professionals face increased scrutiny and regulation amid a more adversarial dento-legal climate. When you ask dental professionals to describe the worst thing that could happen to them during their career, most are likely to say a claim for compensation or a letter from the GDC.

They may even be subjected to a series of investigations following a single adverse incident - a phenomenon we call multiple jeopardy, where just one complaint could potentially lead to a claim, a GDC investigation, media scrutiny, or even a police investigation.

Against this background, it is more important than ever that dental professionals have someone in their corner. This is where the DDU comes in. As a not-for-profit mutual defence organisation, our sole purpose is to support dental professionals and our only obligation is to our members. Unlike insurance companies, we don't answer to shareholders or have terms and conditions containing exclusions in the small print.

If you face a claim you can be assured that we understand how stressful this is and how important it is to our members to mount a robust defence of their position. Even though dental cases are often carefully selected by firms specialising in dental claims, we have an excellent track record of successfully defending cases and in around 60% of claims we make no compensation payment. What's more, we have an enviable record of success in defending members' reputations at the GDC, as detailed in my piece in the previous issue of this journal.

DDU membership meets the GDC's requirements and the benefits include access to professional indemnity in respect of legal costs to defend a claim and compensation payments where necessary. But there are many ways we assist our members - for example, this edition of the journal includes risk management advice on a variety of topics along with an opportunity to gain some CPD - and our support is much more than just financial.

In 2017, we received around 11,000 requests for advice and assistance from dental professionals, including 8,000 calls to our dento-legal helpline, which is staffed by dentally-qualified advisers who understand your situation and listen empathetically to your concerns.

Our dento-legal advisers are only a phone call away and can provide guidance and reassurance during stressful times - a core service that we encourage members to use as often and whenever they need in order to help mitigate or even pre-empt problems. Feedback from members suggests they really value the opportunity to discuss an issue with a supportive expert.

There are many challenges facing dental professionals in modern practice, whether it's handling issues around using social media, complying with new GDPR regulations or dealing with a GDC investigation. We aim to provide advice and support to our members through a variety of media, which now includes our new app, outlined in more detail here.

It is essential you know the potential pitfalls and understand the legal and ethical obligations of your work in order to practice safely, and we're here to help. The DDU will be on your side and by your side, not only when the going gets tough but throughout your career.


This article was correct at publication on 04/12/2018. 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.

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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