Dentists treating the most vulnerable break impasse at Stormont
8 April 2019
The vital role performed by the community dental service must never again be taken for granted, says the BDA, following official confirmation their terms and conditions will finally be brought into the 21st century.
Northern Ireland's Community Dental Service were the last healthcare workers in the whole of the UK to be working to contracts drafted in the 1980s. The service provides dental care for people of all ages across Northern Ireland including children and adults with learning disabilities, patients with health problems, phobias, and those unable to leave their homes.
Despite a deal being reached, and funding allocated to local Trusts by the Department of Health in 2016, Stormont officials had refused to proceed to implement the contract without formal ministerial approval. Following BDA pressure, permanent secretaries have finally agreed to rollout of the 'new' contract from April 2019.
Last year's Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy 2026 identified growing recruitment problems, and that a significant number of the most experienced community dentists are approaching retirement, with up to 40 per cent reported to be potentially retiring by 2025.
Uncertainty over contracts, and resource pressures have seen morale in the service crash, with BDA surveys indicating 47 per cent of respondents rated their morale in their work as a dentist as being 'very low' or 'low'. The service has been under increasing pressure from having to treat a growing elderly population with increasingly complex needs, with a lack of additional resources. Waiting lists for extractions among special needs patients in some Trust areas are now in excess of 18 months.
The new deal will see pay finally come into line with community colleagues in the rest of the UK, and will be backdated to 1 April 2015.
Grainne Quinn, Chair of the BDA's Northern Ireland Salaried Dentists Committee, said:
"I am delighted to see this contract finally being implemented within the Community Dental Service in Northern Ireland. Our hard-working staff deserve the improved Terms & Conditions, and they have been very patient awaiting its implementation. We will be looking to Trusts to work with the DOH to ensure all staff get their long-awaited back pay in a timely fashion.
"This has been a surreal experience. Since initial agreements in 2016, the BDA have been trying to get this contract implemented, but have been thwarted at all stages with first - no Minister present - and secondly, no government in place. Despite this, we pushed ahead looking at every opportunity to raise this issue with senior officials to enable us to get to completion this week. Our members should never have been put in this position, and they are finally getting recognition for their valuable work.
"Paralysis at Stormont had left the care for thousands of vulnerable patients at risk. Community dentists had been left facing an uncertain future, working to rules drafted 3 decades ago. Finally, after a decade of negotiation, frustration and inertia we've got a result."
BDA Northern Ireland
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