Clive Worthington: man kills himself after botched dental work left him in agony for 14 years
Clive Worthington was denied thousands of pounds in compensation due to a legal loophole
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A man took his own life after suffering 14 years of pain from botched dental work, his family claim.
Clive Worthington, 81, a widowed father-of-two, suffered from a misaligned bite and difficulty chewing and swallowing after failed treatment for dental implants and a fitted denture. The retired woodworker from Harlow, Essex, also endured repeated gum infections, constant gum pain, headaches and a deviated jaw.
Mr Worthington lost weight from not being able to eat and he stopped going out because of his ordeal. He was also being treated for anxiety and depression which he said was a direct result of “prolonged and failed treatment” by one private dentist.
After spending an estimated £20,000 in dental and legal costs, the 18-year-old took his own life. Despite being awarded more than £117,000 in compensation, Mr Worthington died without ever receiving a penny as a result of a legal loophole.
His distraught daughter Gina Tilly is now trying to get justice for her father, having helped him in the final stages of his legal battle.
Gina, 43, a mum of one from London, said: “He was constantly going to dentists and asking if they can do anything for him. It was a complete mess. In the end he just knew he wasn’t going to get the help he wanted.
“Every time he felt like he was getting somewhere with his health or with the compensation claim- it just felt like too much to navigate. These big old organisations make you feel powerless. I knew he’d been struggling, he was having a really hard time. I knew something was wrong but it was still a shock."
She added: “It’s completely devastated us. My daughter doesn’t know all the details. It’s just really terrible. Dad was one of ten children, so when this happened it wasn’t just about him, it had a big ripple effect."
Gina said that her father was a joyful and social man but he lost all social life after his failed dental treatment, adding: "The main problem was the pain. He stopped going out and doing the things he loved. He couldn’t sleep from the pain. I rarely saw him without him mentioning it. He was somebody who made everybody laugh."
£117k compensation still hasn’t been paid
Mr Worthington’s ordeal started when he flew to Hungary in 2008 to get dental implants and a fitted overdenture from Perfect Profiles dentist Dr Eszter Gömbös, because his ordinary denture was causing him pain. However, the new denture was not fitted properly which caused chipping and cracks to develop, as well as repeated infections around the implants and in the gums.
Mr Worthington continued to see Dr Gömbös at one of Perfect Profile’s UK branches where he received replacement after replacement dentures and dental bridges, adding more dental implants which caused him increasing levels of pain.
In September 2015, Dr Gömbös admitted to the 81-year-old that she was "at the end of her expertise" and asked him to seek out another dental professional. She also instructed him to seek compensation from her insurers.
He did so and took a complaint to the General Dental Council (GDC), and was told the investigation would take up to six months. It wasn’t until May 2017 that the GDC found Dr Gömbös guilty of several acts of misconduct in her treatment of Mr Worthington.
She was allowed to continue practising under several conditions, including needing supervision and declaring to any future employers of her misconduct when working in the UK.
It wasn’t until four years after Mr Worthington’s case was first raised that he was awarded compensation. In November 2019 Dr Gömbös was instructed by a court to pay him £86,495.62 in damages and £30,882.80 in costs, to be paid within 14 days.
However, Mr Worthington had not received the £117,378.42 he was owed when he took his life in September last year and the compensation still has not been paid because of a legal loophole called "discretionary indemnity".
Dr Gömbös was insured by the Dental Defence Union (DDU), a membership organisation that supplies discretionary indemnity to cover their members for things such as conduct hearings and compensation claims against them. The DDU decided not to pay out the large sum of money Mr Worthington was owed, which was their "discretion" to do so without explaining why.
As Dr Gömbös is alleged to be no longer based in the UK, it is making the legal process harder for the family. The GDC, which registers dentists working in the UK, requires dentists to have "appropriate" indemnity cover, but includes "discretionary indemnity" in that definition of "appropriate". The GDC’s defence is that it is simply following the law.
Dr Chris Dean, managing director of the Dental Law Partnership, a dentist and solicitor himself, said the problem lies with the “acceptability of dentists being members of a mutual society by the GDC as amounting to appropriate indemnity cover.”
He said: “These unregulated mutual societies are more than 100 years old, and they come from a time when dentists knew best, as doctors and dentists clubbed together to support themselves and protect themselves in these.”
After a compensation claim is turned down under a discretionary cover, Dr Dean says there are "no more routes to go down" unless you can chase the individual dentist’s assets, such as liquid funds, their house or their car. He added that if the GDC changes its position on discretionary indemnity now, it opens itself up to litigation by unhappy claimants like Mr Worthington’s family.
Gina said she wants to make sure that no one else has to go through what her family has suffered. She said: “I’m still yet to understand how this is allowed to happen. It appears the GDC has chosen to support unregulated dentist societies over the patients it is supposed to protect."
The GDC would not comment on individual cases but said in a statement: “Patients must be able to seek compensation in the rare event that something goes wrong in their dental care. It is deeply frustrating that weaknesses in the current legislation caused the system to fail in this instance. We encourage the Department of Health and Social Care to accelerate their work to review and update the existing provisions, which we as regulator can then apply."
The DDU said: "We are unable to comment on individual cases. We would however point out that the DDU is part of a not-for-profit mutual membership organisation which provides its members with indemnity for clinical negligence claims for treatment provided in the UK and Ireland.
"It is rare that we are unable to offer our members support: over the past five years we have assisted well over 99.5% of members who have approached us for support with claims and other legal matters.”
For those struggling, there are a variety of places which offer help and support. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free at any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit the Samaritans website.