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The closure of the HSCB is an opportunity to move dentistry forward

Legislation that will dissolve the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) from March next year is currently making its way through the Assembly.

In our written submission to the Health Committee, we are calling for this unique opportunity to be seized in a way that enables dentistry and oral health to move forward.

The Board's closure will mean HSCB functions - and GDP contracts - will transfer to the Department, while dental advisors will also come under the direction of the Department of Health (DoH). This will have important implications for how dentistry is administered. Getting this right is a precursor to seeing progress on the many reforms we need to see in dentistry. This includes:

  • The prioritisation of oral health within DoH
  • The capacity for a new, fit-for-purpose GDS contract
  • Rebuilding a more integrated oral health system underpinned by a new Oral Health Policy.

Our solution is to create a new dental unit within the DoH. We have detailed this in our submission to the Health Committee and in our letter to the Health Minister. This unit would be headed up by the acting CDO, who would report directly to the Permanent Secretary and would have a seat at the top DoH Management Board.

We have seen how dentistry has fallen off the radar in recent years with the downgrading of the office of CDO (including removal of CDO from the DoH Management Board), the absence of an up-to-date Oral Health policy, and in consequence, detachment of oral health from other departmental priorities.

Despite the positive work by our acting CDO, and the acting Head of General Healthcare Policy, the lack of personnel in DoH dedicated to dental administration, (including not having any deputy CDOs) has become a major barrier to the strategic focus we need. This has become particularly pronounced in the wake of COVID. These issues continue to have an adverse impact on all dental crafts.

The answer lies in a new dedicated unit to be established within the DoH. Dentistry needs to be in a position to look forward in a strategic way, beyond short-term 'stop-gap' arrangements. Having properly resourced, fit-for-purpose administrative arrangements in the DoH, and a roadmap in the shape of a new oral health policy, is a prerequisite for being able to see oral health and dentists suitably prioritised.

We have requested an opportunity to discuss these proposals directly with the Health Minister in the near future. This unprecedented opportunity must not be missed.