The High Court has overturned a decision of the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Dental Council to erase a dentist.
Lucy Jane Williams, the Appellant, was charged with a long list of professional misconduct allegations by the General Dental Council, the Respondent. The Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) hearing lasted 27 days and 16 witnesses gave evidence. The fact findings were made by the PCC on 5th November 2021. The sanction decision was made on 19 January 2022. The PCC decided to erase the Appellant from the register.
The issues before the court were:
- Whether there was a failure in cross-examination of the Appellant by the Respondent at the hearing to put the necessary assertions of fundamental facts to the Appellant so as to permit her a fair opportunity to answer the allegations of dishonesty such that the findings of the PCC on dishonesty were achieved without due or fair process.
- Whether the appealed findings of dishonesty are wrongly made on the evidence or otherwise unfair.
- Whether imposing the sanction of erasure was inappropriate, disproportionate, wrong or not in accordance with the relevant guidance.
Ms Williams is the daughter of two dentists. She worked as a dentist’s assistant in her mother’s dental practice between 2000 and 2010. Whilst she did that she gained a certificate in dental nursing (2002), a certificate in oral health education (2003) and one in dental radiography (2005). She gained a qualification in pre-clinical science in Bratislava in 2009. She was a sales representative for a German dental products company for a short period between 2009 and 2010. She trained dental nurses between 2012 and 2013. She achieved a BDS degree from Peninsular Dental School in July 2016. She achieved a qualification in advance veneer restorations in Vienna in 2016. Between 2016 and 2017 she worked 4 days pw in foundation training with W, a dentist in the Glamorgan area. Whilst W did NHS and private dental work, the Appellant only did NHS dental work.
The Appellant became pregnant in late 2016 and gave birth on 8 June 2017 to a son. She returned to work on 24 July 2017.
In the background, whilst this was going on, in around 2014, her mother sold her practice to PRD who took it over. The Appellant took her first job in September 2017 at PRD’s practice, the Practice, in effect taking over her mother’s old role, 3 days per week.
Mr Justice Ritchie noted that, by all accounts, Ms Williams’ relationship with PRD was difficult. After working for him for 11 months, on 24 August 2018, he threw her out because the Appellant advised one of the patients whom he had treated in the past to make a complaint to the practice manager (who was PRD’s wife) because PRD had failed to spot a high number of diseased teeth over the course of quite a few years. He came to hear of this, perhaps through a nurse and that very day required the Appellant to leave work.
After being expelled, between September 2018 and March 2019 the Appellant worked as a locum dentist at various dental practices. Whilst she did so she made various complaints to NHS England about PRD (her mother complained about PRD too) and he made complaints back about her to the GDC. She of course had no access to his practice clinical records. He had full access to all of her clinical records.
In September 2018 the Appellant started an MSC at Bristol Dental School and in 2019 the Appellant became a clinical supervisor at Peninsular Dental school. From May 2019 to March 2020 the Appellant worked as a locum at SPA dental group. By July 2019 the Appellant and her mother had set up a new dental practice providing private dental care. The Appellant was a partner. According to her CV she was working there and also working as a locum at SPA dental (for a period of 8 months).
On this evidence no one could or did assert at the hearing that the Appellant was a slacker. She was clearly a committed and hard working dentist with wide ranging qualifications. However, she has been erased due to the PCC findings of dishonesty, inappropriate practice events and failures of integrity arising in the first 11 months of her working life.
Ritchie J found “that the decisions of the PCC on the Appellant’s honesty… were wrong, were procedurally unfair” and were not inferences which could properly be made in relation to some of the allegations made against Ms Williams.
On the issue of the sanction, Ritchie J commented that the “charges which have been proven are undoubtedly serious ones” in his judgement “all of the circumstances of this case the sanction of erasure for this young dentist is too harsh and is unnecessary in the circumstances”. He went on to say that “The Appellant has shown insight. She has retrained in ethics and other relevant fields. “
The erasure sanction of the PCC shall be quashed and in its place the Appellant’s registration will be suspended for 9 months from the date of the decision of the PCC. If I am found by a higher Court to be wrong in relation to my decision to quash the findings of dishonesty relating to top up fees I should record here that I would have increased the overall suspension to one year in total for all the misconduct including those additional findings.