The pandemic has made “covid security” vitally important to medical practitioners. The dental profession is no exception. Practitioners who breach covid security have been swiftly brought before the Interim Orders Committee ("the IOC").
The fundamental question is how covid security should be ensured in the first place. The answer is found in the "Covid-19: Infection prevention and control guidance" published by PHE (“the Guidance”). The IOC has appeared to treat the Guidance as mandatory, not discretionary.
The Guidance separates patients into “risk pathways”. Most patients will fall into the “medium risk pathway”. Patients may fall into the “high risk pathway” if undergoing an aerosol generating procedure. The security required is dictated by the pathway in question.
Breaches of covid security generally come to the attention of the IOC by way of whistleblowers. This is unsurprising given that a qualified professional is more likely to spot a breach than a patient. The fact that the informants are themselves practitioners could affect the credibility of their complaint.
Whistleblowers often choose to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of reporting a colleague. The result is that defences tend to follow a familiar pattern. Registrants frequently disparage the whistleblower as a disgruntled ex-employee who is airing a grudge.
In addition, Registrants often cite the failure of their employers to provide them with, for example, the necessary PPE. Grappling with the impact of shortages on compliance will pose some interesting questions about whether Registrants should face disciplinary proceedings in these circumstances.
The IOC has considered covid breaches to pose risks to staff, patients, the reputation of the profession, and the Registrant themselves. With these risks in mind, our experience is that the IOC has shown little hesitation in imposing interim orders in response to a credible complaint. The Guidance has been applied strictly and breaches are generally met with orders of conditions.
The threat from the pandemic will evolve as vaccinations and variants compete with one another. In contrast, public concern over covid will remain constant well into 2021. Looking ahead, practitioners alleged to have breached the Guidance could find themselves facing disciplinary proceedings for some time yet.
Christopher Sykes and Peta-Louise Bagott are members of the Professional Discipline and Regulation Team. Please contact Callum Stebbing (Civil Practice Manager) if you would like to discuss how the PDR Team can assist you.