Dr Bill Nichols, Honorary Vice-President of the BDA Benevolent Fund, sat down with the GDPUK to share his experiences of helping to provide financial support for dental students, dentists, and their dependants in times of crisis.
How and why did you get involved with the BDA Benevolent Fund?
Bill: It is interesting to look back at my 22 years with the charity, now that I have retired from active duty, so to speak. In the 1980s, I was the Branch Secretary for BDA Northern Counties and, through that, I got to know the branch representative to the Benevolent Fund. I started helping him as kind of an unofficial deputy and, when he stepped down in the mid-1990s, I took over. It was often hard work, but I feel honoured to have been part of such an important backup mechanism for the dental profession.
What changes have you seen over the years and what role does the charity play within dentistry nowadays?
Bill: The primary role of the charity hasn't changed over the years. The aim is simply to provide financial assistance to dentists and their dependants who are in need. What has changed are the demographics of beneficiaries. They tend to be much younger now, of working age and there are more female beneficiaries. We’ve also seen a large increase in the number of beneficiaries with difficulties as a result of proceedings with the General Dental Council. Student need has changed too − we always were prepared to help students in their final year of study, i.e. when we knew they had a pretty good chance of qualifying. That has changed, and now we will help dental students more or less at any stage of their undergraduate studies.
What kind of support can beneficiaries apply for from the Fund?
Bill: The support comes in three forms, really. Financial support in the form of grants and loans and pastoral support. Subsistence grants are provided to keep a roof over someone's head and to provide them with food and, capital grants are given for essential items like a dishwasher or fridge, or boiler repair.
Then there’s payment of the annual retention fee for the GDC; that can be a big problem if you haven't been working for very long, such as newly qualified dentists and dentists recently restored to the register, who may also face difficulty in paying for professional indemnity. The fund can also help with CPD funding, for example for dentists who were suspended and must comply with GDC conditions to get back on the register. We settle debts sometimes, because it can better to clear debts incurring high interest, which takes some pressure off the beneficiary. Interest-free loans are also available in limited circumstances.
Away from the financial side of things, pastoral care is provided, and guidance is offered for additional or alternative support, even just providing a sympathetic ear can be a big help. Our manager and administrator spend hours on the phone every day listening to people in need.
What advice would you offer someone who is suffering financially in the dental profession?
Bill: Don't bury your head in the sand. Seek help as soon as you can, from the Benevolent Fund, from the BDA, from the Dentists' Health Support Trust, Citizens’ Advice, debt counsellors, family, colleagues; anyone you think might be able to offer support. Go and talk to someone sooner rather than later.
You have to be realistic, as well. You can't behave like a successful dentist if you haven't any income, so you must be prepared to make some difficult decisions and changes to your lifestyle.
How can people contact the Fund?
Bill: You don’t have to be member of the BDA to get help from the BDA Benevolent Fund, which exists to offer support to all dentists, so, if you, or someone you know, is facing financial difficulties – for whatever reason – contact the BDA Benevolent Fund, in confidence, on 020 7486 4994, or visit www.bdabenevolentfund.org.uk for more information.