During the pandemic, we built closer working relationships, improved communications, and delivered more for dentists.
The Local Dental Committees (LDC's) and Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee (NIDPC) forged a close working relationship during the pandemic. This produced many benefits for dentists, especially when it came to getting the word out on rapid changes.
Here are some of the ways we stepped up:
How we support dentists
The four LDCs in Northern Ireland are open to all dentists who practice in the area. Everyone is welcome to join, and we have lots of different personalities and individuals who make up each committee. In my role as Chair of Northern LDC I work with colleagues to support local dentists and to lobby for changes. Our Northern LDC currently has 292 dentists, we hold meetings twice yearly which provide the opportunity for dentists to be informed of all the latest updates.
We typically deal with local and practical issues being faced by GDPs, for example, hospital waiting lists, out of hours emergency provision, issues with dental payments or changes to guidance. Issues that we cannot resolve would usually be raised by LDC representatives with relevant bodies until we can find a resolution for the dentists we represent.
Together, we oversee the out of hours service and emergency dental care centres which benefit everyone in the community. LDC's that are effective require strong leadership and representation from across the trust to make sure that everyone's point of view is represented.
NIDPC is the official representative body for GDPs in Northern Ireland which is recognised by Government to negotiate on behalf of all Health Service GDPs on issues such as terms and conditions of service, contracts, and remuneration. There are representatives from each of the LDCs on the NIDPC, which means we can raise local issues on a bigger forum when needed.
"One of the most positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the vast improvement in communication between NIDPC, LDCs and all GDPs."
One of the most positive outcomes of the pandemic has been the vast improvement in communication between NIDPC, LDCs and all GDPs. LDC mailing lists were essential in cascading information to all GDPs during the fast-changing environment of the pandemic. These improvements in communication will allow many more positive changes for GDPs in the future.
A central dental portal, set up by HSC, became the primary source of information on changes during Covid. Unfortunately, at the time, not many dentists knew how to use it or were able to access it. This left many practitioners with unanswered questions and in a position where vital DoH and HSCB emails were not being received. By forwarding the emails on to our mailing list, we were able to offer support and fill the gap. We gave practitioners access to the latest information and support schemes that were available.
With our established mailing lists and lines of communication in place, LDC were in a great position to receive information on arising concerns, issues and problems facing GDPs considering the rapidly developing pandemic. By working closely with NIDPC, we were able to rapidly pass on any queries that we couldn't resolve which greatly informed negotiations.
Technology made it easier to reach larger parts of the profession during the pandemic, which was a dynamic and fast changing situation. Updated guidelines changing how to practise went out rapidly, and our closer working relationship meant that everyone had the most up to date information to help ease some of the pressure.
Bringing colleagues together
The increasing use of technology during the pandemic opened new avenues of communication. Virtual meetings removed barriers and helped to ensure that information from NIDPC meetings was fed back to the LDCs in a timely, accessible way. We could communicate with and get insight from a wider variety of dentists. Our email list of both members and non-members meant that we could support information sharing for everyone.
Dentistry can be very isolating, you spend a lot of time working in your room, together with your nurse and don't often leave this bubble. In the past, LDC's typically didn't meet very often, causing disconnect between colleagues and feelings of disempowerment, especially when working in the challenging landscape of a pandemic.
"The difficult working landscape made us realise that we do need each other, which led to colleagues reaching out to support each other more."
The difficult working landscape made us realise that we do need each other, which led to colleagues reaching out to support each other more. Closer working relationships are one of the best things to come from the pandemic; people knowing each other rather than remaining insular despite being in the same areas as each other.
This shift meant that people actively wanted to be on mailing lists and could truly see the value in communicating more. Surveys that were carried out during the pandemic also gained a boost as we were able to send them to our mailing lists too, increasing the reach and ensuring the results reflected different views.
Networking together more often can only be a good thing, giving dentists the opportunity to make their voices heard and enabling us to feed into bigger communications, delivering positive changes together.
Building on our successes
We will continue to work closely together as LDCs, and with the NIDPC, to share information, raise issues and enact change. Our new approach with technology and valued lessons learnt from the pandemic means that issues are dealt with from a practical perspective but also taking overarching policy into account.
There has never been a more challenging time in dentistry across Northern Ireland, which is why working together is more important than ever. The issues we face can be complex, with associates and Principals being hit from all directions. The more dentists that participate in the LDC, the louder and more representative our voice will be. We are here to empower dentists and fix the issues we are up against.
Chair, Northern LDC