When did you last have it? _ Leadership in dentistry.
Just recently things have been relatively quiet in the area that I usually write about. The GDC seems to have realized the mistakes of the past, and the new executive appears to be making overtures about re-engaging with the profession. Slowly but surely many think there might be a break in the thunderclouds and a glint of sunlight over the profession where our continued regulation is concerned.
One would like to think that there are significant inroads being made by the BDA on our behalf as a result of the regime change at Wimpole Street. However, I think many will doubt this, especially when the GDC themselves have actually questioned who leads our profession.
Surely this is an indictment of the profile of our Trade Union and representative body if those at the regulator have to question whom is actually in charge of dentists? It isn’t the Chief Dental Officer, who is more of an advisor to Government than a figure the profession can rally round. Its definitely not the Head of the GDC. There are many ‘celebrity’ figures in Uk dentistry who give themselves the title of ‘KOL’ (key opinion leaders) but again they are really not the leaders of our profession, often just opinionated souls who have some form of medium through which to express their thoughts (and pictures of their cars!). It’s certainly not organisations like Dental Fusion (or should that be Dental Futile?) and other professional organisations who have very limited memberships.
It really is quite obvious then that it should be the BDA. Whilst there are some strong figures within the organisation, and the work that is done by the employees is excellent, it still seems to suffer from an apparent inertia and lack of awareness as to what it could actually achieve. Whilst it no doubt provides some excellent member services, (such as employment and general advice and the library) it seems to frequently live up to the expectation of the profession as a body that drives really changes.
Take for instance the removal of registrant addresses from the GDC website. I’m pretty sure this has been on the ‘Work in Progress’ list at the BDA for some time. Yet it takes one petition by an individual and the GDC not only look at it, but actually manage somehow to change the entrenched view of Chairman Moyes himself. Now the BDA can say that they have done lots behind the scene, but there’s no use doing this and seemingly not achieving anything, especially if it has been going on for years. To then jump on the bandwagon and claim that the issue being raised by the GDC earlier this year was solely as a result of the BDA exerting pressure (when I happen to know that people at the GDC acknowledge the pressure came from the petition) is a little bit naughty.
The BDA is also the only dental body invited to the table with the DoH when negotiating a new contract. To give an analogy from mother nature; This is a little bit like a seal sitting down with a Great White shark and agreeing on the least painful way of being eaten alive. Evolution has taught many creatures to not get involved too closely with the apex predators, yet the BDA continues its same path in the forlorn hope that one day the shark might have indigestion and the seals won’t get eaten. It will always argue that it is there because of those of its members who haven’t any option other than to be seals and swim in the same sea as the shark. Evolution by supporting other options for these practices has always seemed to be low down on the agenda. Shouldn’t leaders of the seals be telling its members to try to keep away from sharks? Won’t the sharks have to evolve themselves or eventually starve to death?
Another example is the pressure that the BDA should still be putting on the CQC. The CQC has not been the subject of my blog at all in the past, and given the fact that I have been a huge critic of them has surprised even me that they haven’t suffered from my ire yet. Since the appointment of John Milne as their National Advisor there has been a distinct increase in the quality of the inspections generally. There has also been the publication of the ‘Mythbuster’ series of articles on the CQC Website . However, it is apparent that even these can suffer from misinformation. In particular the one regarding radiation protection is riddled with errors that make the further entrenching of incorrect information more likely to be referred to as absolutes when they are not. The fact that these errors might then be referred to by the GDC as the CQC is seen as an authority when charges are brought against a practitioner mean that there can be potential for miscarriages of natural justice.
Whilst there is no intention to mislead, when there is an incorrect interpretation of the legislation, rules, regulations etc. by such as the CQC (who we can argue should be an authority themselves anyhow and shouldn’t make errors like this at all) then the BDA should be swift to bring these errors to the attention of the CQC and more importantly the profession in general. This shouldn’t be in a ‘behind the scenes’ manner, but much more publically. We would then know what they are doing. This is not to embarrass the CQC in any way, but merely to demonstrate the obvious authority the BDA should be seen to have, and command the appropriate respect. Once again these errors were brought to the CQCs attention by an individual.
There is a quite frankly ridiculous amount of legislation that governs the practice of dentistry these days, so much so that it is virtually impossible for individuals to keep on top of all the different aspects of compliance. It is vital therefore that whoever leads our profession has an organizational structure that should know all the things governing and legislating dentistry so intimately that at the first sign of a new urban myth appearing somewhere (and they should be aware of where all these myths originate – looking on GDPUK r Facebook is usually a good place to start) there should be a very public and robust re-affirmation of the real legislative and regulatory situation, and with absolute authority and clarity such that the myth is immediately disproved.
I’m sure we can already hear the cries from the BDA that they already work in this way at the moment for their members, and this is true to a degree, but this is usually in a completely reactive and individual manner, and you usually have to actively seek out this information yourselves. Given the sheer volume of stuff that is out there to comply with it is very simple to get caught up in some of the less controversial urban myths such that they become the new fact, and thus perpetuated more. So you actually have to know something is wrong before you question it, otherwise you will automatically accept it is true and thus it becomes the ‘done thing’ as everyone ends up believing the myth. Just like the obligation to record batch numbers of LA in the notes is a myth.
What about jumping on the incorrect use of standards by Expert Witnesses when these are used in GDC hearings and further entrenched by the rulings? Why hasn’t the BDA produced a definitive standards document regarding an acceptable (not minimum or aspirational) standard that items like a simple dental examination should include, and be recorded in the notes? After all, there is enough expertise within the BDA that a consensus document could be produced simply enough. If it has (and I may have missed it admittedly), why aren’t the Expert Witnesses then referring to a document like this as authority? Why haven’t the Indemnifiers mentioned the existence of a document like this in the defence of colleagues? (and why haven’t the indemnifiers produced one either, perhaps by working with the BDA on it?).
Why haven’t the BDA come down like a ton of bricks very vocally on those LAT’s that transgress or selectively (incorrectly) interpret the regulations? If they have, why haven’t they shamed them so publically so that other LAT’s know they are a force to be reckoned with and won’t try it on with other practitioners?
Finally, what about the headlines in The Times this weekend about (surprise surprise) dentists ripping off the public? There doesn’t seem to have been any attempt by the journalists to even contact the BDA for a comment. Surely one of the first organisations to be approached for comment on a story like this would be the association that is supposed to lead dentists. Or is it that even the press think that a comment from the BDA would be about as strong as a wet tissue? At such a time there should be an automatic and robust defense of the professionals, whilst simultaneously showing the failure of the SYSTEM that they work within, and laying the blame squarely at the door of the DoH and Government.
The BDA really should sometimes show its teeth much more readily (no pun intended). But the only time they have done anything approaching this was the Judicial Review into the ARF in 2014. Even then there didn’t seem to be an ability to press home the victory and hitting the GDC whilst they were still reeling. Rather it seemed to all be ‘behind the scenes’ as usual and waiting for the Health Select Committee to grill Gilvarry and Moyes. Where was the tactical approach of ‘putting the boot’ in when it was most needed?
I will admit that political activism often needs to be done behind closed doors, but we need to know that when this is what we are told is happening, something IS actually being done, rather than just being talked about. The reputation of the BDA is such that many feel it never seems to be achieving anything, and therefore people think that it never does. There are so many issues in dentistry that appear at any time, and the BDA suffers from having to be everything to everyone. But surely there is a common theme amongst all in dentistry that our professional association should be there to lead the way vocally and proactively. Instead it often appears to be more a reactionary organisation with the attitude of ‘mother knows best’.
Well I’m sorry, but given the achievements that individuals have made recently in engaging more successfully than the BDA have, would lead me to suggest far from ‘mother knowing best’, mother is now someone who needs to realize they might actually be past it and new ideas and a new approach are needed.
There are a few vocal people in the BDA, but there are also others who seem to be anonymous and conspicuous by their seeming lack of inspirational leadership. Leadership means setting a visible and vocal example that others can then assist them in taking things forward and more importantly want to take forwards despite the obstacles in the way. It’s certainly not getting behind other people’s crusades and then saying look at what we did to get this done. I know of a good many people within dentistry, many of them household names (and for all the right reasons) who are disillusioned that there is no flag we can rally round as a profession; so much so that groups of like minded individuals are now beginning to draw together in order to do what the BDA should be out there doing.
Which is to Lead the profession.
At the same time, there has to be an acknowledgement of the postion that dentistry is in within the bigger sphere of healthcare. We will never have the public support that the doctors can call on, and we only have to look at the way the Government have played hard-ball with them over the recent contract ‘negotiations’. Lets face reality here. We will not get any concessions, there will be no more money and the conditions will not improve. We have to accept this and move on. The definition of stupid is often said to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think we can quite easily argue the BDA continue to do the same thing over and over again…..
No doubt many of the BDA hierarchy will be offended at this piece; but quite frankly they perhaps need to be. I’m sure there will be suggestions that I should put my money where my mouth is and stand for the PEC. Perhaps they are right. But since I don’t have all the answers I shouldn’t put myself forward as a leader of the profession. But even if I did, the problem with this is that one person will always come up against the establishment, which believes ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ and ‘we must think of the members’. Paralysis by fear of the unknown results. It would need a radical change to the entire structure and I’m not convinced the more traditionalist members within the BDA would go for that. Open up votes to those disillusioned and no longer members of the BDA then it might be a completely different situation, but then that obviously couldn’t happen.
I’m sure those most annoyed with this blog will be those who have the least reason to be because they probably feel I am not acknowledging the things that the BDA have actually achieved. I’m not having a go at any individuals; but it’s those who wear the BDA badge and don’t do anything vocally, visibly, or productively to manifest change. Being hamstrung by the often archaic position of the trade union often means it is easier to maintain the status quo or just score pyrrhic victories than really trying to elicit the change that is needed.
The recent membership questionnaire is a start to finding out just what members think; the problem is it’s not the members they need to be asking how the BDA can engage more. The very people who are disillusioned with the BDA are not going to be members by definition. Bleating on about joining so your voice can be heard is beginning to wear a bit thin to many of us I’m fairly sure; why join something so you can submit a survey once in a blue moon especially when they refuse to listen to why you might not be a member? It’s a Catch 22 situation that needs to be broken.
The BDA needs to ask the ENTIRE profession what it thinks about it. The GDC seems like it is going to try to engage with us as a result of unprecedented problems and the change in executive manpower bringing a fresh look at the issues. If they can do it when constrained by legislation then there is no reason the BDA can’t either.
Its time for the BDA to show just what sort of leaders they really have.
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?