Dentists have become embroiled in a “spying” row with their regulator which has spent thousands of pounds on private investigators who have posed as patients’ families.
The General Dental Council (GDC), the organisation which oversees dentists practicing across the country has spent over £15,000 on at least one company which offers covert services, the Telegraph can reveal.
Between 2017 and 2018, the GDC paid £17,064.85 to private detective agency ‘Invicta Investigation’ to ‘investigate complaints or information received in respect of a registrant’s fitness to practise.’
While the covert investigation was carried out legally, it has prompted dentist groups to condemn the “Stasi tactics” used by the GDC, saying that the regulator should not be using sizeable amounts of registrants fees to conduct ‘unfair and invasive’ investigations.
The Professional Standards Authority, which oversees the health regulators in the UK, said that it would be exploring the information revealed by the Telegraph as part of a review of the GDC, but said it would not comment on specific cases.
British Dental Association Chair Mick Armstrong said: “When illegal tooth-whitening is running rampant, and braces are being flogged via websites, the GDC should be using tactics like mystery shoppers to protect patients.
“Entrapment is entirely another matter. These sort of Stasi tactics are not a good look for a professional regulator who lists their values as ‘fairness, transparency, responsiveness and respect.”
In one instance in 2016, two private investigators paid for by the GDC attended an appointment of a dentist posing as relatives of an elderly lady called ‘Evelyn’.
The investigation against the dentist in question was subsequently thrown out, with the GDC having to pay legal costs of those involved.
Raj Rattan, Dental Director at Dental Protection, said: “The fact that the GDC is prepared to target its own registrants without a sufficiently justified cause is, in itself, unsettling for dentists. But what I find most concerning and disappointing is the covert nature of the investigation.
“The use of an entirely contrived scenario about a sick pensioner in very difficult circumstances was designed to trigger an emotional response and lure a registrant into acting outside of their scope.
“This is hardly an ordinary opportunity for wrongdoing, and it is unfair and invasive.”
Private detective agencies in the UK offer a range of services, from GPS tracking and surveillance services, to missing persons and background checks.
While they do have to operate within the law, they are not overseen by a regulatory body.
Theresa May announced that regulation would begin in the Autumn of 2014, but that legislation never arrived.
The General Dental Council would not confirm whether they had enlisted the services of other private investigators, telling the Telegraph that it uses this approach ‘rarely’.
A spokesperson for the General Dental Council said: “In order to fulfil its statutory function, namely the protection of the public, the GDC investigates complaints or information received in respect of a registrant’s fitness to practise in a number of ways.
“This includes the use of investigators, although this approach is one that is used rarely.”
The Telegraph approached Invicta Investigation for comment.