If the BDA did not exist…It would need to be invented.
I was encouraged as a student not only to join the BDA but also to join in. I have served in several roles at Section and Branch and, even as a non-clinician, I still read and enjoy the BDJ.
I remain, an advocate and a critic of the BDA. I am often reminded of the “What have the Romans ever done” sketch from The Life of Brian when dentists ask, “What has the BDA ever done for me?”. They often continue, “Why don’t they…?” the questions being the old chestnuts, “Sort out the GDC/CQC/Department of Health” or “get some action like the BMA does”. The same individuals usually disappear when you ask them to do something for themselves or others.
So what is the BDA’s role, how could it change and what benefit would that bring? The cliche goes, “You wouldn’t want to start from here”, but here is where we are.
The BDA’s mission statement is: “to promote the interests of members, advance the science, arts and ethics of dentistry and improve the nation’s oral health.”
Let’s accept that and start there.
A new organisation is a non-starter, it has been tried with little success, why reinvent the wheel? It could be a broader church, D stands for Dental not Dentist. Many successful sections actively welcome all team members to their meetings, we work in the same places and, if we want to truly embrace team working, why not?
An individual’s perception is their reality. The BDA is composed largely of people who work in general practice and, rightly or wrongly, they see the BDA through the lens of their silo. Their interests are different from one working in the community, academia or the hospital services. The main challenge is making sure that you are profitable, dentists like all small business owners run the risk of bankruptcy and ruin if they don’t get their maths right. Many practices run on very small margins of profitably, are undercapitalised and work from hand to mouth. More like corner shops than other professional businesses.
For many this has worsened since the imposition of the 2006 contract for which I most definitely do not blame the BDA. The then CDO did a whitewash job and the contract is deeply flawed, underfunded and bad for everyone.
Dentistry is a very stressful occupation. It can be a lonely place; being a medical professional has pressures upon it, having to make immediate decisions with patients that are awake and where you have finite time to complete procedures produces even more pressure.
Being the owner and main producer of a small business is lonely too. Many dentists are poor leaders and have problems separating management from leadership.
The stress of working under the NHS system plus an aggressive GDC is showing itself in rising numbers becoming burnt out and dissatisfied with their lot. In my role as a business consultant I meet many people at their wits end, not knowing which way to turn.
The BDA should be far more active in encouraging dentists to move away from a reliance on the NHS. In the past many elected representatives choose to be reliant on the NHS, have businesses that cope with the system and are so close to retirement they do not want to make changes. Change is happening there at last.
Through the sections and branches the BDA is responsible for large amounts of CPD provision yet there seems to be little cross communication. Some sections shine like beacons, others hardly flicker. Newer CPD providers have adopted different ways to be more attractive to a changing audience and the BDA has been slow to embrace the change.
One of the advantages of local face to face meetings is the provision of “fellowship”. Traditionally the opportunity to share experiences in a non-confrontational way with senior and junior colleagues provides a great way to let off steam, to unwind to share and gain support.
The annual conference was an excellent source of CPD and a hub around which the Dental World rotated, yet latterly struggled for an identity and was eventually subsumed by The Dentistry Show. I know that decision was hard to make and to take.
The BDA has clearly listened to criticism and there is far more comment and reaction about dentistry in the news. We also see and hear about disagreements, the profession has a mouthpiece with an opinion.
The press office needs to be ahead of the game more often and on more topics. For this to work there needs to be more dentists willing to stand up and speak up locally.
I would like the BDA to take a long hard look at what the scenery of UK dentistry should look like in a decade’s time, to examine other systems and drive change. The only opportunity we have of being ahead of repeated government intervention is by inventing our own future. What will things be like under headings of personnel, science, economics and social? How will that be reflected in the BDA’s advice to members? What decisions do practices and individuals need to take now for the world of 2030 and beyond?
Some years ago I had to explain to a member that as section secretary I had little or no way of making direct representation, and he would have to approach the LDC or his GDSC rep. His reply, “You’re the “face" of my Trades Union, I have no idea who the other people are, they never come to our meetings and the LDC people are all 100% NHS why can’t you do something?” I felt useless.
The route of feedback from practices to “HQ” remains poor, the communication needs to be improved and to be seen to be improved. Members don’t know who their representatives are or what they do. Clarity is required.
Dentists - if you want someone to represent you then get off your backside, find them, tell them exactly what you want and demand feedback, otherwise there is a large chance that you won’t get it! Don’t ask what your BDA can do for you, ask what you can do for your profession.
BDA - make it easier to contact representatives. Ensure your offer is of interest and relevance to all members. Keep the messages simpler, don’t presume everyone knows everything, continue the website improvement and keep reinventing yourself.