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Northern Ireland: Constructive meeting with Health Minister to move dental reform forward

The British Dental Association (BDA) has met with Health Minister Robin Swann to discuss the ongoing challenges in dentistry.

The Minister acknowledged the significant impact the pandemic has had on patients seeking oral healthcare and on the dentists and their teams providing this essential service. The discussions focused on how to rebuild services and to move forward with much needed reform.

The Minister said:

“The meeting today with the BDA was a positive and constructive one and was a further opportunity to hear the concerns of General Dental Practitioners.

“Whilst the response to the pandemic remains the immediate focus, I also want to push forward with rebuilding services and improving access for patients.

“The oral health of the people of Northern Ireland is of vital importance and we need to ensure the availability of accessible services. This must however be done in a controlled manner to ensure the safety of patients and dental staff alike. If we are to truly deliver the best possible service for all, then we must move forward with much needed reform.

“Through collaboration, the Department of Health and the British Dental Association can deliver much needed improvements to the system, in terms of tackling the backlog of care and the longer term priorities to improve oral health. It is through reform that we will be able to offer a modern and fit for purpose model for delivering dental care in Northern Ireland.”

The Minister acknowledges the need to ensure that the regulatory framework within which dental practices operate, continues to support patient safety and high quality service delivery. He is committed to reducing the frequency of RQIA inspections of individual dental practices as appropriate and based on regulatory experience, available intelligence and learning emerging from the current inspection programme. To this end, he intends to make relevant legislative changes in relation to frequency of inspections following further discussion and engagement with key stakeholders.

Richard Graham, Chair of the NI Dental Practice Committee of the British Dental Association said:

“The BDA strongly welcomes the clear commitment made by Minister Swann today to rebuilding General Dental Services (GDS), in particular the decision to move forward with the work to establish a new GDS contract.

“We were heartened by the Minister’s acknowledgment of the financial pressures within general practice and his recognition of oral health being more closely embedded with general health, not least the inclusion of oral health in the new Cancer Strategy that is currently out for consultation.

“In acknowledging the financial support that has been provided over the course of the pandemic to support health service dentists, we publicly restate the BDA’s commitment to work with the Minister and his officials to be a constructive partner in moving dentistry forward. We want to ensure Health Service dentistry in Northern Ireland can be reformed, and made truly sustainable to provide oral care for future generations.”