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​An update on the pay uplift for dentists in Northern Ireland

06 February 2020

A peculiar mixture of frustration and cautious optimism characterised the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee’s (NIDPC) first meeting of 2020.

The Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB) recommended in July 2019 that all dentists should receive a 2.5 per cent uplift in financial year 2019-20. However, blaming stringent financial constraints, DoH has struggled to implement this uplift.

It was recently revealed that the NI Department of Finance rejected a bid from DoH for £5.2 million to fund the 2019-20 DDRB uplift. This means that DoH will either have to find the funding to apply the uplift from any leftover funds in its own budget not used by the end of the financial year, or wait until the next financial year. 

This means there is now little chance that the 2019/20 SDR uplift will be forthcoming by March at the earliest. These same financial constraints have also affected the possibility of a 2019/20 Revenue Grant Scheme, which again will not be forthcoming until late March, if at all.

Support from MLAs

There is cause for future optimism. The return of the NI Assembly offers the opportunity to our MLAs to hold DOH to account on our behalf and several have already been supportive:

  • At a recent NI Assembly Health Ctte meeting, Paula Bradshaw MLA (Alliance – South Belfast) queried Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary, Department of Health regarding the implementation of the DDRB recommendation

  • Several MLAs, including Doug Beattie (UUP – Upper Bann), Colin McGrath (SDLP – South Down), and Pat Catney (SDLP – Lagan Valley) have asked dental related questions about local dental services and the 2019/20 SDR uplift 

  • Following on from the 2019 House of Commons NI Affairs Ctte recommendation that a new oral health strategy should be developed, Catherine Kelly MLA (SF – West Tyrone) is expected to ask the Minister for Health for an update on the strategy at his very first NI Assembly Oral Questions session. 

Continuing to push for progress

Continued recognition of NIDPC’s key policy priorities from our elected representatives will make it more difficult for DoH to avoid giving oral health policy the priority it should, and must, receive. 

One NIDPC policy priority that must be prioritised by DoH, is the re-commencement of negotiations on a new GDP contract. A summary of the long-awaited academic evaluation of the pilot contract scheme is now publicly available, with the full evaluation expected to be published in the coming weeks.

Once a timeline for negotiations has been established, NIDPC will be launching a programme of member engagement to seek views on the new contract – ensuring that any new contract is beneficial for GDPs across the region. 

NIDPC will also make it clear to DoH that the re-commencement of contract negotiations must not be an excuse to escape progressing improvements to the existing SDR. In particular, with the NI Assembly now returned, NIDPC will insist that DoH progress the necessary legislation required to uplift the prior approval limit – a limit that has not been changed since 2003.

Overall, while 2019 was another frustrating year for GDPs, the return of the NI Assembly offers a glimmer of hope that more tangible progress can be made in the coming years. 

The Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee meeting referred to in this article took place on 24 January, 2020.

BDA Northern Ireland

BDA Northern Ireland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Northern Ireland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts. Join us.