Policy and legislative change require time and patience, sometimes taking years to come to fruition. But positive change for the benefit of all parties is always worth the effort. The change in RQIA inspections of dental practices to every two years instead of every year is a great example of this.
Win for good sense
This change is something dentists have requested for a long time. This isn't about dodging oversight. As dentists, we are diligent, risk-averse, methodical professionals and our reputation is precious to us. It is vital that our patients have complete and total confidence in us as professionals, and our physical practices as places where their safe treatment and care is paramount.
It is vital that our patients have complete and total confidence in us as professionals.
We, the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, welcome the change to the frequency of RQIA inspections as a win for good sense. We work tirelessly on behalf of general dental services, and this is the latest example of where our work has led to real, tangible, effective change.
We asked for a commitment from Health Minister Swann in October 2021 that the legislative change required would be in place before the end of the last Assembly mandate. Minister Swann gave that commitment and was true to his word. The legislative change was made – and became effective from 1 May 2022.
Additional inspections and notification
On 1 May 2022, RQIA implemented this change and will now inspect half of the registered dental practices during the 2022/23 inspection year and the remainder during the 2023/24 inspection year. On occasion, however, there may be a requirement for additional inspections above the minimum frequency.
At our meeting with RQIA on 9 May, we learned that a tool is being developed to identify practices to be inspected in year one and two. Factors that will assist in that decision-making include practices that have recently changed ownership; corporate organisations with multiple dental practices; levels of regulatory compliance; recently approved registered persons; notifications; whistleblowing and intelligence; concerns and complaints.
RQIA also says it plans to increase the opportunities that providers, patients, and the wider public have to provide information about their experience of the care delivered, and for providers to give feedback about the inspection process.
We have asked that RQIA look at the notification period for the practice inspections and consider making this longer than 4 weeks to make the process easier to manage at practice level and they have agreed to discuss that internally.
As our professional body, the BDA continues to link closely with RQIA on behalf of members. We have all played a significant role in making this legislative change happen. It is a win/win situation and advantageous for all.
It is a win/win situation and advantageous for all.
The change is a clear demonstration of the power of political engagement. When a small NIDPC delegation met with the Health Minister in October 2021, a clear commitment was made. Six months later, that commitment became law. That's a feather in our caps – and we look forward to a positive working relationship with the future Health Minister, the new Health Committee, the 90 newly elected MLAs and the officials at the Department of Health.
A PowerPoint presentation on changes to the inspection programme can be found in the guidance for regulated service providers section of the RQIA website. This is a win for dentistry – but we have our work cut out for us as we embrace contract reform negotiations. This will be another long and hard-fought battle but with a spirit of hope and aspiration for positive change that works best for all.