The penny has finally dropped. Even without the impact of the pandemic, the dental system in Northern Ireland is in a critical situation. Years of stagnation and neglect, and a downward earnings trajectory, have left it financially unviable.
It is a now or never situation, and after persistent campaigning, Stormont has finally listened to our calls and taken note.
While there is much still to be done, all signs point to reform for dentistry being firmly on the agenda. Here's what you need to know:
Our message to Government has been clear - there can be no going back to a failed system of remuneration for Health Service dentistry.
Our message has been heard
Our message to Government has been clear - there can be no going back to a failed system of remuneration for Health Service dentistry. We must seize the opportunity and move forward.
It is this positive message of rebuilding and reform that has resonated with the Health Minister. In a joint statement issued by the Department of Health with BDA in October, Minister Swann acknowledged the many pressures within the GDS and committed to pressing ahead with significant reform.
Thanks to the interventions of many supportive MLAs, the Health Committee and more recently the Health Minister, dentistry has taken on a much higher profile during the pandemic. Rebuilding dentistry is now one of the Department of Health's (DoH) recognised top priorities.
New leadership and more resources
We welcome the appointment of former BDA NI Council Chair, Caroline Lappin, to the role of Chief Dental Officer. Caroline has advocated for significant reform and prioritisation of dentistry as an integral part of wider HSC reform. We are assured of her commitment to taking forward a new and ambitious approach to oral health provision. Following campaigning by the BDA on the need for enhanced capacity in DoH to do this, the Minister has recently confirmed additional departmental staff will be appointed to support the office of the CDO in the coming weeks. We recognise this as a significant step to progress reform commitments in the months ahead.
Work is also underway to devise new ways of providing immediate support to practitioners.
New financial support on the horizon
A new GDS Contract group, to include input from BDA NIDPC representatives will meet in December to take forward the crucial work of GDS contract reform. In addition to resuming new Contract discussions, work is also underway through the GDS Rebuilding Stakeholder Group to devise new ways of providing immediate support to practitioners. This includes mitigation for the financial impact from enhanced IPC measures, as well as financial pressures that pre-date the pandemic. This work runs alongside efforts to rebuild General Dental Services to address growing public need. NIDPC representatives have been at the heart of this important work, working at a considerable pace to advocate for the profession. We are hopeful that bids for additional funding will be made to provide much needed support to the profession over the months ahead, and in turn to support the rebuild of the GDS.
The BDA will also look at new ways of better supporting those members who wish to diversify their earnings into private streams. We also recognise there are many flaws with the current FSS scheme, and significant issues with Code 3001 PPE payments. We continue to raise these and to seek solutions on behalf of our members.
The countless hours of work expended by your BDA committee representatives, over the past 20 months in particular, has been crucial to avoiding the complete collapse of the sector when the pandemic first hit. And now it is vital to ensure that significant reform is taken forward when the conditions are favourable.
Together, we are committed to making significant progress over the important weeks and months ahead to move dentistry forward, for practitioners and the public alike.