Looking with a little envy at our English colleagues, who at least have some solace in knowing their uplift is now being processed - the Government there has announced that GDP pay will be uplifted by the two per cent from 1 October (and expenses will be increased by three per cent backdated to 1 April 2018) and salaried dentists pay will be uplifted by two per cent from 1 October also.
But Northern Ireland dentists are now left in limbo - whilst the pay body's (DDRB) report has been presented to the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health Northern Ireland, they have not yet responded – and in the absence of a functioning Executive, there is no precedent as to the way forward, particularly when the recommended uplift exceeds the 1% pay cap that has been in place for successive years.
We have written to the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and the Chief Dental Officer (CDO), Simon Reid to make the case for dentists – and to ask for a resolution urgently, cautioning against further delays and we've now had a response from the CDO, saying that they cannot clarify the situation on pay uplifts at present.
Speaking to Seamus McKee on BBC Evening Extra recently, I highlighted the impact these delays are having on the dental service and the frustration felt by dentists (listen at 22 minutes in)
We've said the falling morale for dentists in Northern Ireland cannot continue to be ignored, and the rising stress levels need to be taken seriously.
The uncertainty for those working on the frontline cannot continue without causing far-reaching consequences for the future of the dental profession, and the likely negative impact on patient care.
We've urged the DoH to avoid a repeat of last year, when bureaucracy and delays meant that it took until 18 December before a 'mechanism was found' to agree to the then one per cent uplift.
Dentists legitimately expect that the conclusions of the pay report recommending a minimum 2% pay uplift for all dentists in the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland, is fully honoured.
Regrettably, the unacceptable delays between the pay report, and any uplift being accepted by government has been a harsh reality for dentists in Northern Ireland for many years now, pre-dating the collapse of Stormont. On the back of real term fall in incomes of between 25% and 30% due to the pay cap, enough is enough.
Dentists operating in the health service cannot continue to tolerate the impact of recurring delays in the application of uplifts which gives little recognition to the rising costs of providing and maintaining a viable health service dental practice as well as the significant negative impact on personal and professional stress.
Dentists need and deserve clarity urgently; we have become tired of the Department pointing to a lack of government to justify inaction on their part on a whole host of issues.
A way must be found to end once and for all the restrictive pay cap policy in Northern Ireland, as has been the case in England.
Richard Graham, Chair
BDA Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee
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.