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BDA Northern Ireland 2018: speaking up for dentistry

Blog Author Tristen Kelso

Blog Date 19/12/2018


The BDA’s Northern Ireland office and your elected representatives have worked hard during 2018 to get dentistry’s voice heard, in spite of the many challenges we face.

Low morale; stress; increased expenses; real-term pay cuts; increased regulation; oral health not being a priority…these are some of the key issues we’ve been aiming to address over this past year.

While the continued absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly presents its own difficulties, we have sought to be creative in ensuring your issues are heard and acted upon. 

We need a commitment to dentistry

Alongside our usual work with the Chief Dental Officer and officials on the Board, we have deliberately stepped up our engagement with the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health. And we have been lobbying the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster, and our local political parties, and MPs.

We’ve asked the Department of Health to demonstrate its commitment to dentists and the wider profession; we have repeated our calls for a new oral health strategy that can give fresh vision, underpinned by the investment needed to enhance oral health outcomes, and which recognises, and unlocks, the wider public health gains from dentistry. 

Our policy work has focused on fighting for fairer pay and terms and conditions for our dentists; looking at the impact of Brexit on dentistry in Northern Ireland; the transformation agenda of health and social care; tackling rates of antibiotic resistance in dentistry, and the changes to the use of dental amalgam. 

While making progress with civils servants can be slow at the best of times, the absence of Ministers has made the process even more difficult. 

However, with the support of key political figures, influential stakeholders and helpful media coverage, we have seen progress on several of our issues:

We need dentistry to be seen as an integral part of general health

We’ve made the case for oral health to be a key part of general health for people in Northern Ireland, and our partnerships with leading charities, such as Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, have shown our commitment to ensuring dentistry is included in the wider public health arena.

Alongside stakeholders, we campaigned for the HPV vaccine to be extended to boys in Northern Ireland. BDA Hospital Group Chair, Gerry McKenna represented BDA at the Men’s Health Conference on Oral Cancer in November. 

Children’s oral health has also been an important focus, Grainne Quinn Chair of the Northern Ireland Salaried Dentists Committee and Roz McMullan, Chair of the Northern Ireland Council, amongst others, have worked to keep the issue of the unacceptably high number of child GA tooth extractions to the fore in the media this year. 

We responded to the changes to the usage of dental amalgam via the EU regulations which came into force on 1 July, alongside the new SDR fees, to help ease the transition. We provided advice and support for our members on this sensitive and difficult issue.

We succeeded in getting access to the £1million Revenue Grant Scheme for GDS, announced at the start of 2018. Under Richard Graham’s leadership, the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee continues to press for a repeat of this grant scheme in 2019, along with a suite of other payments aimed at ensuring the financial sustainability of general dental practice.

Our dental community continues to grow

BDA membership in Northern Ireland continues to grow. It’s only with your support and the active dedication of our representatives, that we can make a difference. 

Our events remain vibrant and well attended – LDC Conference Chair 2018, Joe Hendron brought this year’s LDC Conference to his native Belfast, and CDS Group President Jude Anderson brought the CDS Group Annual Presidential and Scientific meeting in October to Derry, which was a sell-out event.

The Northern Ireland Branch went from strength to strength this year under the stewardship of President Martin Curran, offering quality CPD and providing a space for the dental community to learn together and come together as a community. We look forward to another exciting year of events, under the leadership of incoming Branch President, Claudette Christie.

We are also proud that current Northern Ireland Council Chair, Roz McMullan, will become national BDA President in May – we know she will serve with distinction.

Our thanks go to long-standing Northern Ireland PEC member, Philip Henderson, who has represented us for so many years – he will be greatly missed. Although we are pleased to see Peter Crooks (former Chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee) taking up the PEC seat. Peter is no stranger to dental politics, and his expertise will be an asset in the next chapter of the Association’s development.

Prevention needs to be at the heart of any oral health strategy

But there is still a lot of work to be done. 

We remain committed to getting the Department of Health to agree to a new oral health strategy for Northern Ireland, one that really commits to prevention. 

We’ve said a morale boost for practitioners is badly needed across all of dentistry. Deep underlying issues around pay and financial sustainability; stress and burnout; and that NHS dentistry has become synonymous with poorer working conditions has to be acknowledged.  

The issues around caring for our ageing population remain high on our agenda for 2019. We will highlight the gaps in oral care provision for older people, and call for workable solutions that actually enables dentists to more ably address these, not more barriers placed in their way.  

We need meaningful investment to make all aspects of Health Service dentistry truly sustainable into the future. 

This requires strategic direction on the part of the Department, and a real commitment towards oral health. A key starting point must be in addressing the needs of practitioners who underpin dental services. 

Together, we look forward to building on the work that has begun in earnest in the year ahead. We've
secured a meeting with the Permanent Secretary at Department of Health, Richard Pengelly - it will be attended by the Chairs of NIDPC, NISDC and NI Council, and will be an important opportunity as we seek to get our issues heard.

Tristen Kelso, BDA Northern Ireland Director