Iain Hoy, Senior Policy Advisor BDA Northern Ireland, gives an insight into on-going negotiations regarding the financial support scheme.
We continue to negotiate with the Department of Health on the second iteration of the Financial Support Scheme (FSS).
Avid readers of our updates will note that the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee (NIDPC) has been negotiating with the Department of Health on a second iteration of the FSS for quite some time. Since May, we have responded to over six different sets of funding proposals from the Department, robustly responding to each one. This has had the effect of extending the current FSS arrangements - with a few changes - far longer than was intended.
However, we will be very surprised if the current iteration of the FSS is extended beyond the November-December payment period.
What’s likely to change from December-January?
The fundamentals of GDS funding arrangements is unlikely to change significantly after the December-January payment period. However, we expect allocations to remain based on Item of Service earnings in 2019/20. In addition, the Department has secured an additional £5 million for the GDS budget which should mean that GDS funding levels will remain unchanged until March.
The Department is concerned about unexplained, very low, levels of Item of Service activity amongst some GDPs. As such, GDPs should expect to see new conditions attached to the second iteration of the FSS, which focus on ensuring funding is fairly and effectively allocated.
There should also be further clarity regarding the Department’s expectations regarding unregistered patients. As we understand it, the condition within the existing FSS - “I will prioritise treatment of all patients (registered or unregistered) based on clinical need” - only relates to prioritising urgent non-registered patients over routine registered patients. However, the Department’s exact expectations with regard to unregistered patients has not been clearly communicated to the GDS.
We know GDPs have also been concerned about how the Practice Allowance application form highlighted the existing SDR condition that GDPs in receipt of the allowance - “give an undertaking to make available all proper and necessary care and treatment under general dental services (except for specialist services on referral) to the full range of health service patients for the following two years.” While this condition has been in place for many years, current circumstances make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for practice owners to business plan two years ahead. Again, we are seeking clarity regarding the Department’s exact expectations.
A lack of clarity in Department/HSCB communications is something we have been highlighting for some time. In too many cases, GDPs are left feeling unsure about what is required of them. With this in mind, we are pushing the Department to accompany the announcement of the next iteration of the FSS with updated FAQs and a webinar allowing GDPs to put questions directly to officials. This should help provide a better sense for GDPs about exactly what is expected in return for FSS payments until March at least.
What happens after March is anyone’s guess at present. However, we expect that COVID-19 will continue to adversely impact patient throughput and PPE costs well into the next financial year. If that’s the case, then the Department must continue to commit to providing continuing financial support to the GDS. We will continue to robustly discuss post-March 2021 funding arrangements throughout the coming months.
Senior Policy Advisor,
BDA Northern Ireland