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Representing hospital dentists

A new BDA NI Hospital Dental Services Forum met for the first time on 24 February.

Tristen Kelso
Tristen Kelso BDA Northern Ireland Director

Bringing together Hospital dentists of all grades, working across all sites, including dental representatives who sit on the British Medical Association NI Junior Doctors and Consultants Committees, this new group will consider key policy issues impacting on hospital dentists.

While a landmark moment in our work on behalf of Hospital dentists, the new NI Hospitals Forum is but the latest step on a long path of efforts taken on behalf of this important cohort.

Working effectively for you

With industrial action gathering pace across the UK, there's never been a more important time to ensure the representative structures we have in place are working effectively for our hospital members.

Not only does pay parity not apply for Hospital Dental Services (HDS) in Northern Ireland, but we are also a considerable outlier when it comes to hospital trainee salaries compared with the rest of the UK. For instance, a DCT 1 working in Northern Ireland receives an annual salary of £33,133, compared with £40,257 in England, and £40,509 in Scotland.

In association with the Central Hospitals Committee (CCHDS) we've sought to understand more about the impact this pay disparity has had on trainees, particularly in terms of morale. A recent survey revealed a concerning lack of awareness of the considerable variation in pay between UK nations among trainee applicants ahead of applying for, and ultimately taking up posts in Northern Ireland.

We continue to make considerable efforts to ensure that the salary differential, despite a common national recruitment process, is much more transparent from the outset on the HEE DCT recruitment website. We have worked to have a more helpful form of wording that draws attention to the pay variation included as a part of the initial application process and provide more explicit information on trainee pay.

We will continue to highlight the pay disparity and will be issuing more information dedicated to the significant trainee pay differential ahead of preferencing in the coming weeks.

Seeking a solution

While much greater transparency around hospital trainee pay issues is important, clearly, we need a solution that brings pay scales in line with other parts of the UK.

Latest recruitment data shows that it is becoming more difficult to fill Dental Core Training (DCT) posts in Northern Ireland. For instance, we only have a total of 13 DCTs in post in 2022/23, out of 22 available posts. This also creates challenges for service delivery, and patient care.

A number of these pertinent issues were discussed in a recent meeting between BDA NI committee representatives and the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency, who now perform the role of Single Lead Employer (SLE) in relation to DCTs. However, it's important to note that the pay disparity issue long predates SLE, and ultimately reflects Pay and Conditions of Service as per the HSC Circular issued by the Department of Health (DoH).

It's vital that the DoH embarks on a meaningful Dental Workforce Plan which starts to meaningfully address the factors which are causing recruitment and retention difficulties across all of dentistry. This includes in HDS, as with pay disparity for trainees, but also the absence of new Clinical Excellence Awards and pensions mitigations having impacted on more senior grades.

While BMA NI will retain authority for negotiating with government on hospital terms and conditions, we look forward to the vital role which our new Forum will undertake on behalf of hospital members. Through regular discussion, the Forum can better inform the work of BMA NI committees on behalf of dental issues; it can also receive reports on the work being done to advance priority concerns.

Ultimately, should BMA NI Junior Doctors or Consultants Committees opt to move towards industrial action, then the Forum assists us to be able to take forward a similar process on behalf of our hospital dentist members.

How you can help

We cannot predetermine how BMA NI committees may or not proceed in relation to industrial action. However, we do want to ensure we are ready to ballot BDA NI hospital members, should the event arise.

Therefore, we are appealing to all BDA members who work in a hospital setting to ensure the employment details we hold for you are fully accurate and up to date.

Please complete our brief data cleansing survey.

Non-members can join online.

Clearly, we need to see progress on several important workforce issues that are impacting directly on HDS. We also look forward to exploring how we might rejuvenate a CPD dimension previously provided by the NI Hospitals Group, under the auspices of the new Forum.