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MLA hits out after new probe into dentist who let receptionist take X-ray is dropped

By Lisa Smyth

An MLA has voiced concern after an official probe into alleged failings by a Northern Ireland dentist was dropped.

Ulster Unionist health spokeperson Jo-Anne Dobson hit out after health minister Michelle O'Neill said patients of Robert McMitchell can take their own action to "seek redress for potential negligence".

Mr McMitchell, who owns dental surgeries across Northern Ireland, was under investigation by the General Dental Council (GDC) after several complaints about his work.

However, a scheduled "fitness to practise" hearing was cancelled when the GDC accepted a request by Mr McMitchell to be removed from its register. It came eight years after the GDC allowed Mr McMitchell to continue working as a dentist, even after it found he had allowed an untrained receptionist to x-ray patients.

Ms Dobson wrote to Ms O'Neill last month after it emerged Mr McMitchell had relinquished his licence to practice. In response, the Sinn Fein minister said her chief dental officer, Simon Reid, has contacted senior GDC officials to query the voluntary removal of Mr McMitchell and the process in general.

She continued: "Simon is still exploring with relevant colleagues here whether there are any local options to consider these matters.

"However, as one of the ultimate sanctions to local processes is referral to the GDC itself, it would appear that such local processes would not be of use in this particular case."

She said Mr Reid was due to meet with the chief executive of the GDC and she expects to be kept updated.

She added that patients "would not be precluded from taking their own action to seek redress for potential negligence".

Ms Dobson said the minister and her officials should now step forward in the interests of patient safety.

"It is particularly disappointing that the minister seems to suggest that the individual patients involved in the issues raised should somehow take their own action to seek redress for potential negligence," she said.

"In the absence of investigations from the GDC, it is for the minister to step forward and follow this matter through in the interests of patient confidence and safety."

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