The present Chair of the General Dental Council, someone I have a great deal of time for, Prof Kevin O'Brien stresses the concept again and again, that the role of the GDC is "protecting the public". Dentists understand this, but for so many years the GDC regulated the profession in a different way, in what was a different world. But I personally, along with so many professional colleagues, cannot see how Direct Access will make things safer for the public. Risks must be higher, and there will be people who effectively have to be examined by dental hygienists and dental therapists, within their scope of practice, and inevitably they will carry out examinations, and will effectively become dentists.
What about the career pathway and the investment young people must now make to become a dentist? £9,000 a year for five years in tuition fees alone. We anticipate in five years from now, some colleagues will qualify with debts of £70,000. Will demand for dental school admission hold up when sixth formers and their parents do the maths?
What will the role be for dentists in the UK when successive governments have fully taken out their revenge on the dental profession for having the temerity to think and act independently? Politicians and the media all fail to recall a simple fact - the existence of any general dental service in the UK is provided by the investment of the profession, often based on the security of their homes, dentists are almost all independent practitioners, and some decide to enter into contracts to provide NHS dental services. These simple facts, dental practices are small businesses in which efficiencies are high, and nimble brained practice owners make rapid decisions on what is best for their financial well being, both in the very short term, as well as the longer term over-view. Unfortunately, when analysed, the decision on DA must be based on the revenge for independence created by the system which dentists inhabit.
The GDC sought advice from the profession in general in a wide operation. The BDA [representing 18,000 dentists] made their input, which was against DA. Both the content and the weight of this advice were discarded by the GDC in their deliberations.
Interestingly, there are not many issues which unite the UK dental profession. In this case, and in my opinion, there is strong feeling amongst the grass roots, this is now a cause which could be used by the BDA to really pull together disparate parts of the profession.