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Northern Ireland: Making the case for dental reform in a political vacuum

Blog Author Tristen Kelso

Blog Date 25/10/2022

​What will it take to effect the meaningful reform of NHS dentistry?

The past two-and-a-half years have brought a focus on the massive issues facing dentistry across the UK like never before. We've witnessed an almost constant daily media barrage highlighting dental deserts and the universal access issues most notably reported by a major BBC research studyin August and the wider context of increasing financial pressures to deliver NHS care. Through it all there is a clear sense of the manifestation of the 'looming crisis' we have been warning about, coming to pass.

Highlighting the issues

"We are yet to see the breakthrough so desperately needed to keep the NHS patient from dying."

Our efforts to highlight the seriousness of these issues hasn't been reserved to the media only. Your representatives have been feeding into parliamentary discussions on dentistry at Westminster and in the Welsh Senedd in the past weeks alone. In Northern Ireland, even in the absence of a functioning Executive, an unprecedented fifty Assembly questions have been submitted by MLAs to the Health Minister on dentistry issues since July.

We have been working tirelessly to set the media and political direction on dentistry to effect much-needed reform. The media and our respective legislatures could not be more aware of the immense challenges facing NHS dentistry.

Yet, if there has been a clarion call for change, where is the evidence of the equivalent follow-through from national and devolved governments to fix things?

There's an increasing sense that, while we've won the argument, we are yet to see the breakthrough so desperately needed to keep the NHS patient from dying.


Politics impacting the survival of NHS dentistry

"If NHS dentistry is to survive, governments must find a way to make substantive reforms."

The massive political vacuum we've seen in the UK, and in a devolved Northern Ireland context hasn't helped in finding the meaningful solutions needed. Prime Ministers and their Governments have been in disarray; we have lacked a functioning NI Executive since February, and with it a budget to be able to award even a below-inflation DDRB pay uplift or deliver the fundamental reform needed. Meanwhile, the wider economic situation is continuing to bite at a pace government hasn't been able to keep up with.

If NHS dentistry is to survive, governments must find a way to make substantive reforms that rebuild confidence among the profession. We will continue to raise the issues that need to be raised regardless of how challenging the macro environment appears. 

It's also an increasing part of our strategy to ensure members don't feel hostages to fortune, held to ransom by governments which are in disarray, and working to flawed contract models which don't deliver fair or reasonable returns.

Supporting our members

It's one thing to highlight the many problems within dentistry that may be out of our control, but we are also supporting you throughout the uncertainty. Increasingly, practitioners need access to information and advice to feel in control of their financial futures. We are supporting dentists to make decisions by equipping the profession with all the information and expertise we can offer. It's why we've recently updated our Private practice advice which is available online to members.

As part of our new three-year strategy, we will develop the support we provide for all our members regardless of their NHS or Private mix now, or how that might change in the future. Ultimately, it's for practices to determine what business model is the right fit in their unique circumstances, equipped with the wraparound support that membership offers.

We support members through every step of the professional journey, offering you the services you need throughout your career. If you would like to become a member, you can join online or by calling 020 7563 4550.

Tristen Kelso

Tristen Kelso
BDA Northern Ireland Director