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Moving to rebuild General Dental Services

After 15 months of unprecedented disruption and upset in dentistry, we now have a window of opportunity to try to reshape, and refocus General Dental Services, and a formal mechanism to take this important work forward.

Last week, the Department of Health confirmed that current Financial Support Scheme (FSS) arrangements would roll on for a further two months (July and August), while discussions on a revised scheme, ‘FSS3’ to apply for the rest of the financial year, continue.

It is crucial that we have workable FSS arrangements in place for the rest of the financial year as quickly as possible. This will then enable the GDS Rebuilding Group’s focus to move to future GDS arrangements, including what a new GDS contract might look like. We expect to receive the Department’s FSS3 proposals this week, in advance of the first meeting of a new GDS Rebuilding Stakeholder Group that will take place on 16 July.

Members of the Northern Ireland General Dental Practice Committee have been nominated to sit on the Rebuilding Group, and will represent the full spectrum of GDP interests in forthcoming negotiations. This includes associates and practice owners, different age profiles, a broad geographical spread and rates of NHS commitment.

We all know the problems associated with the old GDS contract model that dates back to 1990, not least the high patient volume, increasingly unsustainable low margins associated with delivering Health Service dentistry, and its fixation with treatment as opposed to prevention.

The challenge ahead is to come up with a new contract model. We need one that meets the needs of practitioners as well as the general public, and ensures Health Service dentistry doesn’t just survive the pandemic, but can thrive.