Richard Graham, Chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee, gives an insight into the work being done on your behalf.
It has been a very busy few days, following some very busy weeks. We, on the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee (NIDPC) and our BDA colleagues, have been working hard on your behalf to get you the solutions required. Here's an insight into the progress made this week.
The NIDPC met Tuesday afternoon 31 March via teleconference to consider both the GDP concerns, and the Department of Health/Health and Social Care Board's responses to date to the impact of COVID-19 outbreak. Our discussion was informed by the wide range of issues practitioners raised with their Local Dental Committee representatives. These ranged from: the lack of clarity on furloughing staff and redeployment; the Department of Health (DoH) financial support package; emergency dental care centres; and concerns about PPE and face-to-face contact in general practice.
We met with Michael Donaldson, HSCB Head of Dental Services, immediately following NIDPC and took the opportunity to discuss the full range of concerns with him. I want to thank Michael and his HSCB colleagues for listening to the full range of concerns that have been relayed by the profession, and the time taken to liaise with DoH colleagues on these topics as appropriate.
While ultimately the detail of the financial package is the responsibility of the Department of Health, we can assure you that your many concerns are being heard loud and clear.
The BDA continues to engage with DoH and HSCB officials on a daily basis; raising GDP concerns, and seeking to ensure the Department's solution is adequate and flexible enough to address the complex nature of 'hybrid' dental practices, and the many unique situations of practitioners. This follows on from my letter to the Health Minister at the end of last week.
After Tuesday's extensive effort by NIDPC, I believe a more favourable direction of travel is emerging.
In response to the concerns you have raised with us, and we in turn have impressed on the Department and HSCB, there appears to be a more receptive and understanding tone emerging in the Department. There is recognition that the original scheme outlined in the Department's letter to GDPs on 20th March needs to be able to deal with the complex personal and practice situations that is the reality of General Dental Services.
We have been promised a fair system at an individual practitioner level. Of course, we also want to see the flexibility to ensure mixed practices don't lose out, that they can benefit in proportionate terms to the various supports available. We have said all along, this isn't about being paid twice, but it's also about not falling between two stools.
With regards to dental practices' ability to access wider Government support – I know some practices will have received and welcomed £10k payments in recent days. I would encourage you to take a look at the BDA NI briefing on financial support.
A 100% Health Service dental practice is unlikely to be able to access both Health Service payments support and wider Government support schemes. However, the Department appears to have recognised the need for flexibility. We are hopeful that hybrid Health Service/Private dental practices will be able to access other government support in proportion to their percentage earnings split. Overall, we expect the Department to operate on the principle of parity with the other UK nations – particularly Scotland.
We will continue to raise our concerns with Department officials on your behalf in the coming days. There is utmost urgency of the Department having a meaningful package finalised in time for processing April schedules. We will also be pressing to have advance sight of the package, since the devil will be in the detail.
We will continue to take opportunities to campaign on your behalf. You can listen to my interview with Radio Ulster on Tuesday here.
I know some members have already been in contact with their local MLAs to highlight the situation you find yourself in. If this is something you feel you would like to do, you can find contact details for MLAs broken down by constituency. It is in everybody's interests that the Department gets this right.
Finally, I would like to thank the profession for its outstanding response to the call for volunteers to work in the emergency dental care centres that are coming online this week, and next. We also recognise the efforts of colleagues in the CDS to get these centres ready.
GDPs have not been found wanting at this time of crisis. When this is over, we will rightly be proud of our contribution.
Chair of Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee