A range of important issues affecting the Community Dental Service (CDS) workforce have been raised with the Department of Health (DoH).
Among attendees at a recent Northern Ireland Joint Negotiating Forum (NIJNF) meeting with Northern Ireland Community Dentists Committee (NICDC) representatives were DoH Director of Workforce Policy, Head of Pay and Employment, and the Chief Dental Officer (CDO) where the issues facing dentistry were discussed.
Workforce and pay
"We put forward the clear need for adequate regional access to Special Care consultants."
We stressed the need for an urgent workforce review within the CDS to the DoH. The DoH have responded by confirming that CDS will feature within planned work to consider dental workforce needs at a high level, including workshops that are due to be held in Spring 2023.
We expressed our disappointment that a promised, 'task and finish group' to look at extra sessions pay has not yet been progressed due to staff changes. We stressed the urgency of addressing the disparity in pay, and the impact lower pay rates continue to have on staff morale, including staff in some Trusts who have withdrawn from participating in additional clinics. A commitment was given by DoH to progress this work.
We put forward the clear need for adequate regional access to Special Care consultants and the additional pressures current deficiencies are having on individual practitioners. A concerted effort to push this issue forward via a business case was discussed. The Doctors' and Dentists Remuneration Board officials also confirmed that implementation of a 4.5% pay uplift can now proceed. A pay circular is expected to be issued before Christmas, with pay backdated to April '22 to be received before the end of this financial year. We highlighted again the detrimental impact this considerable delay has had on staff.
Training and GA access
"The issues are causing an undeniable impact on morale and job satisfaction among CDS dentists."
Responding to the new conscious sedation guidance now in place, we reinforced the need to have local training available to practitioners. Discussions were also had around how training allowances are being currently utilised.
We highlighted the considerable impact and increasing pressures services are currently facing. Patient backlogs and inadequate access to General Anaesthetic (GA) services are adding to an already stressed service causing a sense that patients are being let down.
The issues are causing an undeniable impact on morale and job satisfaction among CDS dentists. The CDO has requested that CDS be included in a Northern Ireland-wide look at paediatric surgery to take place in January 2023.
There are no shortage of issues impacting on the CDS and the environment in which we operate. It is so important that we map out ways to address these pressures, to workforce plan and to see our service moving forward.
We did sense a willingness on the part of DoH officials to listen to our issues, and commitments were given to make progress on a number of these areas. We also acknowledge that important progress has been made on issues following our last NIJNF meeting.
We will continue to advocate on behalf of community dentists and the community dental service in 2023. I wish each of my colleagues a much deserved, restful and Happy Christmas.
Chair, Northern Ireland Community Dentists Committee