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Hundreds of complaints against single dentist highlights need for regulatory overhaul
Coleman Legal LLP
Apr 10, 2024

Newly released data shows that out of the more than 2,000 complaints lodged against dentists in the past four years, over 1,500 related to one practitioner in particular.

Anne Hahessy, the practitioner from Oranmore, Co Galway, has agreed to refrain from practice while the Dental Council investigates the complaints from hundreds of patients.

Despite the influx of allegations, a long-awaited overhaul of dentistry regulation has yet to materialise. Differing from other healthcare professions, fitness-to-practice hearings are held privately in dentistry. Full investigations which require proof beyond reasonable doubt, only take place following the most severe allegations of professional misconduct.

The Dental Council has not released an annual report since 2018, citing resource constraints. In a 2021 submission, the council warned the Minister for Health of “significant risk to public safety” due to legislative gaps. The Council specifically criticised its lack of intervention powers resulting in unregistered dentists practicing, dentists who have been struck off in other countries moving to Ireland and general failures to ensure safety standards.

There have been ongoing discussions with the Government regarding possible legislative developments, including requirements to complete mandatory professional development and provide registration certification to do so. Presently, the council lacks the authority to verify registration or mandate competence schemes.

One patient’s experience highlights the risks currently plaguing the system. A woman was left with severe pain, which she described as “worse than childbirth” following a routine root canal procedure. Since the injury she has needed to undergo multiple courses of drugs accompanied by numerous visits to dentists, surgeons and hospitals, as well as being prevented from working. She eventually settled with the dentist out of court. She has been highly critical of the Dental Council’s handling of her complaint, claiming the Council and current regulations are completely ineffective in ensuring patient safety.

The Council’s response focused heavily on its scope of consideration, investigating allegations of professional misconduct rather than general complaints. The council’s role is to assess whether it can be proven that “a serious falling-short in the standards expected of a dentist” has taken place. They will not address any questions, concerns or incidents that don’t reach this threshold