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Looking back at 2021

With the end of the year approaching, it's a good time to look back at what we've achieved across the last year.

Martin Woodrow Chief Executive, BDA

This has again been a challenging year for the profession. We've worked hard to ensure that dentistry was front of mind during decision making, focusing on: contracts and pay, improvements in regulation, infection prevention and control, and support for diversity and inclusion.

Here are some of the highlights:

Winning the argument on finances

We were pleased to see the 49th DDRB report cite the concerning state of NHS dentistry. It saw an acknowledgment of serious concerns regarding falling take-home pay, recruitment problems, low morale and low motivation across all sectors on the profession and all nations. This shows the impact of our campaigning and represents an important development in the DDRB's view of dentistry.

The DDRB's recommendation on pay this year was 3%, at the time above inflation. This marked the second successive year of above-inflation awards and a significant improvement on previous uplifts. Inflation has of course since headed in the wrong direction bringing cost pressures to all; something we will focus on as we enter the next round of the pay review process.

We also secured a 3% uplift on pay scales for academic dentists – successfully arguing for pay parity with NHS colleagues.

We successfully campaigned for financial support for dental students in Scotland, who had their graduation delayed by the pandemic through no fault of their own.

We will continue to campaign on your behalf for fair and equitable financial support for all members, including for private dentists who have been unfairly disadvantaged throughout this crisis.

Improving regulation

We were pleased to see the General Dental Council introduce payment by instalments for the Annual Retention Fee this year, which we had long argued for. This will be a convenient option for many registrants and will particularly help younger members starting out in the profession.

We secured the removal of wrong-site tooth extraction from NHS Improvement's list of 'never events' this year.

This year we also lobbied for the GDC and CQC to take a view on the provision of remote orthodontics. Both organisations published information and statements on requirements for such providers during 2021. This important move came as a relief to many dentists.

We also secured the removal of wrong-site tooth extraction from NHS Improvement's list of 'never events' this year. This significantly reduces the red tape in dealing with these adverse incidents and ensures that the patient safety response taken is proportionate.

Following our previous success in removing wrong-site dental blocks, there are no longer any dental adverse incidents categorised as never events. This puts an end to the unnecessary and highly stressful investigations associated with them.

Infection prevention and control

In the summer, we called for a road map away from infection prevention and control measures which have caused huge pressures on dentists and their teams, impacting levels of patient treatment and making for an extremely challenging working environment.

Across the autumn, we influenced the government consultation which signalled a step change in approach, by seeking to balance the views of those members who wanted to maintain a precautionary approach in the face of a still present pandemic, with those who wanted to see restrictions eased.

We were also able to make the case for (albeit limited) financial support for practices looking to make ventilation changes to improve patient throughput in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

COVID-19 NHS contractual arrangements

Discussions with all of the national administrations have been challenging this year when it came to NHS general practice. However, we have made the case on your behalf and have had influence on the provisions across all four nations. Our levels of engagement with parliamentarians, and the profile of dentistry, has never been higher.

Our levels of engagement with parliamentarians, and the profile of dentistry, has never been higher.

In England, for example, the reduction in abatement from 16.75% to 12.75% in quarter three, reflects our ability to make compelling evidence-based arguments. Similarly, the level of increase in the upper activity threshold for quarter three reflects the hard work we put in to engaging NHS England over the summer. We will continue to make the case for you with NHS England.

Looking to the future, we are engaged in detailed discussions on where NHS contractual provisions will end up in the longer-term across the UK. A process has just begun in Northern Ireland looking to a new NHS framework; in Wales progress continues to be made towards contractual reform; and in Scotland we anticipate important work in 2022.

Whilst it is still early days, the very fact that we are in a formal negotiating process with NHS England on general dental practice contracts, for the first time in 15 years, is in itself a cause for cautious optimism. Our extensive lobbying activity, with partner organisations such as Healthwatch and your invaluable contributions, have been crucial in getting us to this point.

Pensions win for prison dentists

After five years of campaigning on your behalf, we've ensured that prison dentists who were wrongly denied access to the NHS Pension Scheme in England are now able to apply for retrospective contributions and to access the scheme going forward. If you worked as a prison dentist, you can now avail of the money you were always entitled to.

This followed our success in working with NHS England to develop new standards for commissioning dentistry in prisons with the aim to prevent future errors occurring, to improve prison dentists' working lives, and to improve the dental service for prisoners.

Support for equality, diversity and inclusion

I'm proud of the work we've done on supporting equality, diversity and inclusion this year. We ensured the topic was discussed across the BDA and carried out research which demonstrated the unfortunate prevalence of racism in dentistry. We also created an online training module to support you and your team to be more consciously inclusive, considerate and respectful of diversity.

Alongside this, we've established early career dentist seats on various BDA committees. This is an important step towards greater inclusion and representation on our committees, especially given that these seats were oversubscribed in the recent elections. We're committed to leading by example and action.

This year, for example, we successfully argued for the removal from the Dental Gold Guide of the stipulation that trainees must have more than 18 months without a break in training of more than two months. This was discriminatory against trainees who needed to take maternity leave, and the revised version should avoid such discrimination.

Looking ahead

2021 has been a challenging but rewarding year. I'm proud of what we have achieved on your behalf across the UK. As we look forward to the start of 2022, I am confident that we will build on this year's successes and achieve even more on your behalf.

I would like to thank all of our members for their essential contributions to our efforts. It is only by working together that we can be the powerful voice that dentistry needs. Together we are stronger.