Laura Orr outlines the challenges facing the Community Dentist Service in Northern Ireland and the urgent action that must be taken.
The Department of Health is undoubtedly facing the challenge of a lifetime responding to COVID-19. This was made all too clear on 1 December as we passed the unfortunate milestone of 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths in Northern Ireland. This stark figure serves as a reminder of the future impact of decisions made today.
At this crucial time, we’ve called on the Department of Health to recognise the need to prioritise the Community Dentist Service (CDS) and take decisive action to reflect this.
Practitioners and patients need action
The CDS in Northern Ireland and across the UK is at a precipice. As the recent
BDJ article detailed, the service is under immense pressure. “The CDS…[is] being eroded… with patient numbers increasing... accompanied by an ageing workforce, recruitment difficulties and increasing patient expectations, regulation and patient numbers.” This is a cocktail for crisis, and everything possible must be done to avert it.
That’s why, we stressed the need for action at a meeting with the Department of Health officials this week to secure further clarification on the CDS enhanced rate. We also asked for clarification on pensionable working hours thresholds for part time practitioners and will confirm this as soon as possible.
We’re also urging the Department of Health to look to the future of the CDS. The Department must tackle the systemic issues which the service faces, if they wish to ensure that some of the most vulnerable patients in Northern Ireland will have access to the treatment they need in the future.
Pre-existing challenges compounded by COVID-19
“The CDS has come under unique and unrelenting pressure.”
The CDS is far from alone in feeling the effects of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has come under unique and unrelenting pressure to not only sustain and rebuild their valuable core services, but to coordinate and deliver the work of the Urgent Dental Care Centres.
For almost nine months of the pandemic, CDS practitioners worked to provide additional care over evenings, weekends, and bank holidays with no indication of what, whether or when they might be paid. The recent introduction of a 1.3 enhanced rate from the Department of Health has done little to boost morale and fails to recognise the work already delivered by our weary practitioners.
This is reminiscent of my experience of the CDS contract process with the Department of Health. Protracted negotiations, communication issues and a complex approval system resulted in the process taking a full decade to conclude. Indeed, it is just this year that the CDS contract no longer appears on our meeting agendas.
Make your voice heard
In the five years since I joined the BDA, I have watched the CDS navigate some of the greatest changes and most difficult challenges they have ever had to face. They have done this all with unwavering dedication to their patients.
Repeated blows and disappointments have contributed to a grave lack of confidence and trust in the capabilities of the Department of Health and highlighted how important it is for practitioners to have access to support from their trade union.
“Soon every CDS practitioner will receive a link to the 2020 CDS survey.”
To be in the best position to represent you, we need your input. Soon every CDS practitioner will receive a link to the 2020 CDS survey to their registered email address. We encourage you to complete the survey and share your views; they are essential in making our case for the service and providing evidence on morale, motivation and the future of the service for this year’s submission to the Doctor and Dentist Review Body.
I cannot pretend to know everything that practitioners currently face on a day to day basis, but my appreciation for the professionalism, passion and dedication shown by our members has never been greater. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that that appreciation is transformed into action now, and in the future.
BDA Northern Ireland, Committee and Administration Support Officer