In forming the ideas for this blog, I have thought about the changes that have occurred in the leadership and role models for the dental profession in the UK in the last decade or so. Some bodies have not changed their style, nor the stature of their dental leadership. In some government controlled ones, they have.
I will consider two leaders, Chair of the General Dental Council [GDC] and the Chief Dental Officer [CDO] of the Department of Health [DH].
As you will know, an era is over with the retirement of Dr Barry Cockcroft as Chief Dental Officer, NHS England. I am sure the whole profession wishes Dr Cockcroft well, we hope he has a long and healthy retirement.
The dental profession knows the role of CDO was downgraded when this incumbent was moved sideways from the Department of Health, giving advice directly to Ministers. Of course this role has always been a civil service post, but included advisory duties as well as the expectation of leadership qualities.
During this recent tenure, the role of CDO seems to have changed to a more "director of dentistry" style, implementing imposed changes from the DH, in order to carry out the political will of the DH. Not necessarily changes which benefit patients, nor the public, nor the profession, sad to say, but changes which have benefited HM Treasury. No doubt this would be argued against by the outgoing CDO, the changes under his watch have been dictatorial, and controlling, often based not on evidence, but on political expedience. In fact that concept of lack of evidence base is a marker for his term, of course dentists must follow an evidence for all our decisions, but UDAs and HTM01-05 demonstrably lacked any proper evidence. Only one person would argue that they do.
The historical model was that a highly respected, highly qualified colleague fulfilled this role, and often with a public health aspect, and watched over dental developments emerging from the DH, supervising in a more nurturing, parental style. We do not know how internal battles were fought with the DH over dental policy historically, but the role of the CDO appeared to be protective of patients and the profession. Will these days return?
Now over to the GDC at Hallam Street and now Wimpole Street, and from 1956 to 2012 leadership was provided by a President, who served a fixed term, elected from the body of the elected GDC.
The Presidents of the GDC over the years have included some of the heavyweight names from the surgical and scientific fields of the profession. Those dentists may have been in positions of authority, but they were colleagues that other dentists could look up to, admire their achievements, and accept leadership in thoughts, philosophy and deed.
The same thoughts would also go for the holders of the post of Chief Dental Officer.
But, as we know, the present Chair of the GDC, imposed by the Government, and put into position by the Privy Council, has been a lay person, Dr William Moyes. Not a leader of the profession, and indeed, someone who has shown little insight into the way the UK dental profession ticks. For example, in a speech, he suggested that UK dentistry should be comparable to the supermarket industry, with shoppers able to choose between the Waitrose style practice, or the Aldi/Netto/Lidl style.
Colleagues in dentistry shudder to think who will be appointed to be the next CDO. I personally hope the appointee will be able to show the profession the way forward, to be able to speak to the profession, and not be one who is planning further degrading downgrades to professional status, or perish the thought another appointee who sets in train solutions which offer lesser results for the people of the country, or which transfers the blame for reduced outcomes back onto the profession. We need a CDO who stands up for the profession and professional ideals.
We have figureheads of the indemnity societies, the faculties of the Royal Colleges, the universities [who seem to be inward looking], trade unions, private care providers, corporate bodies, online groupings, in place, all carrying out their roles, but none of them have yet emerged as a true leader, widely recognised.
My hypothesis is there is a vacuum in strong, thoughtful, highly moral leadership of the profession, this vacuum has been created by barmy ministerial edicts over a decade or more, when politicians have either not had advice or ignored it, and have chosen to appoint different types of people, the wrong people. What do you think?
Who will provide the leadership? From where will this person or people of stature emerge, when the profession so badly needs the core values of moral, philosophical and intellectual guidance?