Simon Thackeray

Some blunt dental views from Yorkshire

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Simon Thackeray

Simon Thackeray

Simon has been a GDP since qualifying in 1991, initially in the NHS, and since 2005 in private practice in Nottinghamshire. He is a critic of the increasing and often unnecessary bureaucracy surrounding dental practice. As a practice owner and Yorkshireman having to deal with this, Simon has a tendency to direct and forthright comment, especially when it gets in the way of true patient care.
 
02
Oct
1
Posted by on in Simon Thackeray

No one can have missed the inexorable rise in the use of social media for virtually every kind of interaction we experience in the modern world. From a few users 10 years ago there would appear to be now virtually every corner of the globe unaffected by it (except for maybe some long lost Amazonian tribes – lucky them).

Dentistry has not been slow to embrace this revolution, and as a mechanism of disseminating information world wide, sharing new techniques, and even asking advice about a case, then it there is no doubt that is it hugely helpful. Accessing social media though our smartphones is perhaps the most common application of this media, and it is thought that phones are now become part of the way in which we experience life, and how we form our memories. Certainly, creating a virtual scrapbook on our social media persona that shares with other people is something that will help you look back on events perhaps differently to how you did in the past.

But I worry that some people don’t understand the dangers of social media enough. I’ve written about this before on this blog, and the majority of what I said then holds true now. But there now seem to be some people who take the whole social media thing to be a benchmark by which they should measure their own lives against. There is a relatively new Facebook group called ‘Mental Dental’ which was set up to help dentists with some of the challenging mental health issues that can occur in our profession. Personally as someone who has suffered mental health issues in the past, I think it’s a pretty crass title, but the ethos of the group is actually a pretty good one. Whilst much of the time it might be seen as a moaning forum, there are some quite worrying threads that appear from time to time, and it may be that having this type of forum is beneficial to those wanting to ask advice, or just offload anonymously.

However, one of the recent threads that drew my attention was a post about how a practitioner felt he or she was so unsuccessful when compared to all the other dentists who were posting their personal and professional successes all over social media. This concern was so great in this practitioners mind that they were considering leaving the profession because of it. There has always been a degree of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ in all aspects of our lives, and until one becomes satisfied with themselves as a person, there might always be a tendency to search for success via the medium of materialistic gains. However, what struck me in this case was what appears to be the sheer despair this person was feeling, and all as a result of what some people post on social media.

Social media to this person had become the real world, and the posts of amazing composites, perfect implants, and then fast cars, and exotic holidays was seen as the absolute reality of other peoples lives. The superficiality of such posts is obvious to many, but not to others who may already be suffering from a change in their perception of the world due to the mental health issues that appear to be quite common in our profession. It might not be so easy to ignore these sorts of posts when someone is feeling depressed by the profession, and the damage that this can then do could potentially be quite serious.

There seems to be a lack of humility generally on social media that is behind these types of posts. Whilst it is everyone’s right to post what they want and when they want, certainly the ‘Look at Me aren’t I great’, or the so-called ‘Humble brag’ type of posts sometimes serve only to sometimes make other people feel negatively toward the poster, or more worryingly, negative towards themselves. There is no background to a social media post usually, so the context is completely lost. Does the poster EVER have a bad day? Do they Ever have things go wrong in Clinic? Have they ever worried about their Health/Finances etc.? Given the tone of many of the posts we see, the answer to all the above appears to be no.

It’s important then to keep in mind all that happens on social media is NOT necessarily true, and that we should look more deeply into posts like this. It is vitally important that we should all keep in touch with the real world around us.

Social media is here to stay, but it needs taking with a large pinch of salt at times.

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd, 2017
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25
Aug
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It has been a little while since I last wrote this blog. Various things have taken over as they tend to do in life, and the blog unfortunately was something that seemed to never quite get done. However, I’ve now found myself back in the writing frame of mind, and I still seem to have opinions that some will agree with and no doubt others will disagree with, so here we go with some more ramblings of a Yorkshireman.

I have still been keenly observing what has been going on with regards to the profession over the last few months, and there still seem to be the same old problems surfaces that always have. I shall be writing about all of these issues in the near future.

The GDC seems to still be a problem to many, and personally whilst it seems to be to have become more aware of its previous problems, I don’t think it can truly move on whilst the current chair is still at the helm. It is time for a registrant to be in charge again, and for Dr Moyes to be moved to some other Quango where he can’t oversee damage to the morale of an entire profession.

Social media is also still a hot topic, and the GDC have now issued a case study on this. Some of the profession are obviously of the opinion that social media is the real world, and seemingly lack the ability to see it in its true context. There is a lack of humility in the profession where social media is concerned, and huge damage can occur to people when they believe that all they see on their iPhone is the unadulterated truth. It isn’t.

The lack of a new NHS contract, or anything really concrete is also concerning. However, I have a fairly simple view on this. We must be deluded as a profession if we think for one moment that there is suddenly going to be a fantastic new contract that will give the patients and us everything we ask for. I will guarantee that any new contract will primarily be worded to the benefit of the DoH so that the dentists can be held responsible for whatever goes wrong with it.

I’ll write more on these subjects in the coming weeks. But for this blog I though I would concentrate on something that has seemed to be brewing for quite a time, and might actually be reaching a tipping point.

 

Indemnity.

Now, I can remember when my indemnity was about £1200 a year, and didn’t particularly change by much annually. But now, as a principal dentist working full time, it is £5800. This increase is over the period of about 10 years. We have seen an increase in both the activity of the GDC and especially negligence solicitors in this time, which it is claimed to account for the increase in our costs.

Indemnity is a little bit like car insurance in that you hope you will never need it, but it is a necessary evil to have. With the costs of legal representation being what they are, and the increase in the amount of cases being brought, it is not really surprising that costs rise year on year.

But how do we know how these costs are calculated individually? If you are a young driver with a fast car (which you will no doubt be flaunting on Facebook!) then you are likely to be a higher risk than an older person in a more sedate family saloon. This doesn’t necessarily translate to your dental indemnity though. It seems that the longer you are in the profession, the more likelihood you are to be sued and thus have higher premiums. Perhaps the reason for this is that when these practitioners retire, often the patients are found to have large amounts of remedial dentistry to be done. This may be the case, and I am aware of some dentists who have built up a good practice on rectifying this type of problem, especially when they perhaps encourage the patient to take some form of action against the previous dentist.

I’m not saying a wrong shouldn’t be corrected in that situation, but there do seem to be some dentists who are quite happy to throw colleagues under the bus in order to ensure they get the benefit of the patient charges to rectify the problems. Perhaps ‘There but for the grace of god go I’ would be an apt phrase to remind those considering this course of action. In addition, they will also find that their indemnity is going to increase also when this happens.

Because that’s how this kind of indemnity really works; the current members are paying for the claims that are currently being made and are going to be made in the future. In much the same way as the state pension works.  We can’t have an indemnity company suddenly have empty coffers, so they have a duty to ensure they assess the needs of the society to actively have the funds to cover their expenses. All of this is paid for by the membership.

However, this is where I spot a problem. There are some dentists who for what ever reason have higher indemnity costs. Whilst it always seems unclear why this is (as there is no apparent transparency in the fee structure when applied to an individual member), it is not unreasonable to consider that there might be an increased risk identified by the indemnifier. So they are basically saying there may be claims likely to be made against this person in the future. I have no problem with that in principle, but the issue comes when this person then leaves the society because the costs of indemnity have risen so high it is fundamentally unaffordable for them to keep paying.

What happens then? The costs of these future claims will be potentially met by the rest of the members who are maybe NOT doing the same sort of high risk dentistry as the member who has left. One can argue that this is a socially responsible and indeed professional manner in which a wronged patient can claim recompense. The problem occurs when there are more of the lower risk members paying for the expenses of the higher risk. Add into this situation that the societies offer ‘discretionary cover’, meaning that your claim only has the right to be considered by the society (and not actually guaranteed to be supported), then some people feel that they are paying an increasing amount of money for less than guaranteed and continued support in their time of need.

It seems to me that many of the members of the traditional membership societies are becoming increasingly worried about the inexorable rise in costs, and the discretionary nature of the support offered. I am aware of much conversation about the pros and cons of moving between the societies, and I’m also aware of the increase in membership of the Insurance based companies as a result of the concerns about this. One of the advantages of insurance based cover is the presence of a written contract, and the ability to make a complaint to the Insurance Ombudsman, which doesn’t exist with the discretionary membership. In addition, the insurance companies are also heavily regulated by the likes of the Financial Services Authority; the traditional indemnifiers however seem to have no regulator at all. The counter to this argument is that with discretionary cover the traditional indemnifiers can cover those who are not indeed members at the time of a claim, and for the benefit of the profession. I can recall this publically happening at some point in the past, and if I am not mistaken it was a human rights issue that became clarified as a result. However, just how many times has the discretionary cover been used in that manner, and not just to refuse cover?

The way I see it, we will reach a tipping point if something is not done soon to clarify more robustly the stance of the traditional indemnifiers, especially where their discretionary powers are concerned. I want to know that I have the support of the indemnifier in assisting me in my time of need, and not that at some point they decide to pull the plug due to a disagreement or just because it is easier and cheaper to settle (despite it being morally, ethically, and clinically wrong to do so). Does writing a blog of this nature give them grounds to refuse cover? Your guess is as good as mine since there is no real published criteria to know where you actually stand.

I can see there becoming a tipping point at some time in the future where all the good clients of the protection societies are no longer willing to put up with the uncertainty and the lack of transparency about the decisions made about any individuals’ costs and especially the discretionary element of support. These clients will leave, and since it is a requirement to have appropriate indemnity, there will be no shortage of new style companies happy to disrupt the market place and offer an alternative.

For example, what if the indemnifier needed a million pounds to cover its expenses and it had 10,000 clients? The cost per client is obviously £100 per client. But what if this indemnifier then starts to haemorrhage clients until it only has 1000? The cost per client is then £1000. These remaining clients are not necessarily going to be the high risk ones either, as it’s probably the case that those higher risk clients will have changed society much sooner in order to keep their costs down.

This is probably a gross oversimplification, and I’d actually welcome someone putting me right over this, especially from any of the defence societies. However, fundamentally what I see is an ever increasing demand on the resources of these societies, with a potentially decreasing number of members footing the bill, and those members not actually knowing if they will be fully supported by the society due to the discretionary nature of the membership. This is a prime situation for a tipping point to occur that changes significantly the whole model this operates under. This might be practitioners leaving, or it might be a re-evaluation of the business model to take things into account. However it is not something that can remain the unchanged as it appears to me unsustainable in the long term.

Before anyone says this couldn’t happen as the societies are so big and have so many customers, all I have to remind you of is Kodak not identifying the digital camera revolution, Encyclopaedia Britannica not recognising the  threat of the internet, and finally the inexorable rise of Uber in its disruption of how we utilise taxis.

All indemnifiers are also reliant on the need for legal cases to continue. By this I mean there is a symbiotic relationship between the defence and prosecution of dental cases, as without one side the other cant really exist the in the same way. Once a case is begun, then costs accumulate on both sides, and the legal profession feeds from this accordingly. These adversarial sides become dependent on one another, and in particular the defence side of negligence does not necessarily work under a no-win, no-fee basis in my experience and gets paid regardless of winning or losing (by our indemnifiers). Cynically, one would say it is therefore in the financial interests of those in the legal profession to have the current highly litigious situation in dentistry to continue, because there appears to be no shortage of work for them. The practice of dentistry becomes the raison d’etre for the existence of both the societies and those legal firms feeding it until we do something to stop it.

There may be protests from the indemnifiers of the tome of this blog; certainly I have taken no account of some of the truly awful issues that result in harm befalling patients by some practitioners. I am definitely of the opinion that we as a profession most certainly still need to put our house in order, and there is probably no room within it for some of the practices that some of our colleagues routinely feel are acceptable. However, unless you are part of the solution, then you are actually part of the problem, and I feel that there should be much more clarity evident in the world of indemnity, so that the profession can practice with the confidence that our patients need us to have when caring from them.

Otherwise, what’s the point in us continuing to serve our patients? That may well create a further tipping point…..of no one in the profession left to care.

Image credit - Guiseppe Milo under CC licence - not modified.

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd, 2017
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13
Dec
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Another New Year rolls towards us with still nothing particularly concrete planned regarding the new new new NHS Dental Contract. Ok, so there are prototypes running, but there doesn't seem to be any actual date that will see the beginning of a brave new world where all things NHS Dentistry will be rosy once again.

Prototypes seems to be the new buzz word rather than pilots, but unlike a pilot flying a new course, a prototype seems to be something cobbled together that might just possibly fly, but then again might not. The British are pioneers at making prototypes actually fly, but usually in the aeronautical sense. For this to happen it involves a degree of advance planning on the drawing boards, before making models, testing them in a wind tunnel, before finally making a version that might actually fly. There are some occasions where a test pilot has taken the front seat in a prototype only to have met a swift end when something has not quite been right with the design. At least the engineers then can go back to the drawing board and hopefully redesign a problem out of the next version.

But this is where the analogy with the NHS prototypes ends. Instead of learning from the mistakes and problems with the prototypes and design out the problem, the DoH apparently just ignore the data they don't like and carry on with the data they do like. All still fuelled by the ubiquitous UDA. Going back to the analogy, this would be like the designing a solar powered plane expected to fly at 600mph where the wings fall off at 500mph and you can only fly it at night. But since it looks really really good and the Government like it, you can get loads of people on board, so they'll order them. Anyhow, if it crashes, the Government will always blame pilot error. 

People working in the prototypes seem to have varying experiences; those in the blend A models (having a capitation for all band 1 treatments and claiming band 2 and 3's)  are reporting more issues than those in the Blend B (Both band 1 and 2 as capitation and band 3 to be claimed). But what is being reported generally is that access is going to go down with these new ways of working, whilst it is increasing difficult to keep the capitation numbers to target. Access is the only mantra the DoH have, and whilst they pay lip service to quality outcomes, you can rest assured that the only bit of quality they will be interested in will be how much they can claw back when the quality outcomes can't be met. Some of those in the prototypes don't even know how the quality aspect is being calculated as there don't seem to be figure made available (particularly to associates). Given that this is 10% of the contract value, not having the information on what you are being measured on seems to be a significant problem to me.

Having an entirely capitation based system (which will be what the BDA will try for) is better for practitioners ONLY when you have a government that isn't obsessed with output and not interested in the actual quality. By expecting the practitioners to provide the quality as part of their obligations ethically to their patients, and regulated by the GDC, the DoH can quite happily still place the blame at the door of the individual performers on any contract. Its win-win for them still. Anyone who thinks any new contract will be a dental utopia should probably consider leaving the profession now. Almost all commentators say that there is already little enough time to provide the output expected to meet UDA targets; the new system seems even more geared to allowing practices to struggle to hit the new targets. Even successful prototype practices are struggling with the capitation element, as they need many ore new patients to ensure the targets are boing met, but with no space to treat these often high needs patients until 2 or more months down the line, one must wonder how these increase targets are going to benefit good patient care in the brave new world.

Here is now data that shows the amount of principals in practice is reducing, with the increase in associates being proportional to that. However the change is quite extreme, with something like 83% of dentists now working as associates. This will be the norm in the future in my opinion, as with a downward pressure on the income of dentists generally it will become more and more difficult for associates to begin to invest in a practice of their own. I can see parallels with the optical and legal industries here, and incomes of £30,000 for associates becoming routine. Not only that, with the change in the way the new contract may be calculated, and the 'UBER' ruling recently about when self employed might not actually be self employed, then I can foresee a time in the near future when associates become true employees, with the associated increase in liability the employer then has (national insurances, sick pay etc) to cover reducing the wage structure still further. I am also aware of practices who have had to make members of the team redundant, such as therapists as they cannot make the system work for them due to the economics and logistics that seem to be inherent. Still, that's not going to be the DoH's fault is it? Just the dentists who don't run their practice the way the DoH want them to.

Don't get me wrong though; there will still be some highly entrepreneurial dentists out there who will continue to make a very good income from the NHS, but they will be at the head of larger practices or mini-corporates, and backed either by the fortunes made in this system, family money, or outside investors who can see the business model working. There is nothing actually wrong with this either, because fundamentally dentistry is going to be a service industry in the same way as a mobile phone company is, and you don't see all the employees in that industry getting the same salary as the chief executive. It becomes almost irrelevant that many of the 'fee earners' in dentistry are highly educated individuals supported by a well trained team; dentistry is just another 'widget' producing industry for investors to make a profit out of at some point.

One of the reasons that the profitability of corporate practices has been lower has to be due to the income proportions taken by associates. I have no issue personally with what associates earn, but the days of 50% are long gone in this new world, and probably 35% is more realistic for the future. Many law firms expect their fee earners to generate at least 3 to 4 times their salary in order to justify their continued employment. Only in this way will the corporates become as profitable as they need to be to survive long term, and they know this. Coupled with an increased difficulty in earning the udas if the new contract is like the prototypes, with quality frameworks and increased access, then a downward pressure on the highest cost base that can be influenced is certain. In any dental business of a certain size with associates, then I would be pretty sure that the highest 2 costs will be associate wages and staff wages. Only by controlling this aspect, and in an even harsher manner than previously, will the profitability that is needed for continued business survival start to be produced. How fast this will then follow in the smaller practices which have proportionally higher cost bases due to the lack of bulk buying powers is an academic argument.

To finally top this, the BDA  released a press release in the last week indicating just how poor the morale is within the profession. Although this has been known by the profession since at least the time Sheffield United last won a football trophy, they have now decided to let the public know the blindingly obvious. Once again the BDA's public condemnation of a system has been about as vocal as a mute mouse with a sore throat. It should be front page news that half of the UK's NHS dentists are thinking of leaving the NHS, but I haven't seen it in the papers today, but if it does appear it will be spun against us. I was informed (as I was writing this piece) that the BDA are now threatening legal action against NHS England for the patient charge revenue deductions made due to their interpretation of the 2 month rule. But will they get the spin right when they tell the public? Or will the Daily Mail run the 'Greedy Dentists Sue Cash Strapped NHS for more money' headlines because we haven't got a good PR image? At least the BDA are starting to do something positive, but the message has to be managed to our benefit.

So it remains to actually be seen just what might happen in the brave new world of NHS dentistry. Is morale going to improve, or will the DoH continue the beating of the profession until it does? Will there be more time for the quality that our profession is expected to provide? Will there be the correct funding for a First World service?

 Sadly, I think we all know the answers to those questions if we are honest with ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Ltd 2016
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12
Sep
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Political leaders are often said to have a honeymoon period at the very beginning of their new post. At a time where their political capital as at its highest, there tends to be a degree of ‘benefit of the doubt’ given and political opponents treat them well. I get the impression that due to the lack of political opponents to currently wrestle with means that Theresa May has had less of a honeymoon, and more like a ‘swift registry office wedding and straight back to work on Monday’ type of period. There has been no particular need to allow her into the post gently, and indeed she hit the ground running it appears.

It wasn’t quite the same with the new Chief Dental Officer. An initial period of cautious approval and hope that the new incumbent might be a less dogmatic and more approachable one than previously was supported initially by in increase in visibility, and the right kinds of sound bites the made many think this could be someone who is more in tune with dentists than was previously the case.

Well, it certainly looks like the honeymoon is over for our new Chief Dental Officer after the comments this week about routine examinations is anything to go by. Once again it appears the CDO has trotted out the underlying political message desired by the paymasters at DoH. What appeared to start out as a marriage that could work with the profession now appears to be heading for a divorce already.

The comments that were published in the Telegraph and the Daily Mail appear to rehash of those made in 2004 by Raman Bedi, and again in 2011 by Barry Cockcroft, both gleefully published by the Daily Mail, and no doubt trying to reinforce the opinion that the majority of the profession are money grabbing charlatans. The same old mantra is being rolled out by yet another incumbent of the CDO post, which despite its downgrade by government now to a junior supporting role, is nonetheless listened to by the press and therefore the public in order to give more ammunition to the incessant deprofessionalisation of dentistry as a whole. (Or so it seems to me).

In addition, the comments by former NHS Trust Chairman Roy Lilley in the same article that dentistry has become ‘a rich mans hobby’ provided in ‘lavish environments’ would be quite frankly laughable if it weren’t for the fact that they are so offensive. I’m sure he didn’t sit in an office furnished from a secondhand furniture store in a cold draughty office block, so why the hell should we? I could wax lyrical for a long time about my opinions of such people in NHS high office, but I’m sure much of it would give the legal profession many hours of extra work. Suffice to say the ignorance of comments such as this are what I would expect from a member of the ‘profession’ that continually commissioned excessive amounts of UDA’s year on year from D’Mello, and oversaw the disasters at Stafford amongst other things. Perhaps Mr. Lilley would be happier receiving his routine dentistry in the kind of environment that charities such as Bridge2Aid find they have to work in? Perhaps then he might be grateful for the small luxuries his salary allows him to experience. I would suggest he puts some of his money where his mouth is and donates to such deserving causes so they could ever hope to achieve a level of care that even the worse off in our society take for granted.

But I am more concerned the comments made by Col. Hurley seem to go deeper and are potentially more damaging to the profession than any crass comments made by an NHS apparatchik. Comparing the profession to garage mechanics is crude and whilst part of me can always find parallels with any other industry, it is highly disingenuous to make that comparison without thinking more closely. The analogy can be torn apart so easily on many levels.

With the GDC and CQC breathing down the necks of professionals all the time, I’m sure many of them would wish to have a working environment more akin to the relaxed nature (comparatively) of working in a garage. I can’t quite remember the last time the General Garage Council struck a mechanic off for using the wrong oil, or not explaining the different kinds of windscreen washer fluid before servicing a car. In addition, Col Hurley seems to forget that likening the situation to an MOT is also a bit silly, since it is a legal requirement that you have to submit your car for that test every year. Her comparison fails hugely at this point. Perhaps the situation with dental problems (especially that of the huge number of children admitted for GA’s) wouldn’t be as bad if people were compelled by legislation to see a dentist yearly as part of their responsibility to the others contributing to the cost of state run care? But then of course the state wouldn’t be able to afford it and would have to admit as such.

On the other hand, whilst continuing the garage comparison, preventative maintenance is the responsibility of the driver, and there is indeed a whole host of legislation in place to ensure this happens.  So if my garage (ethical and professionally run) recommend I get something rechecked in a period because the vehicle might be dangerous, then I would be foolish to ignore that advice both from a safety and legal point of view. I’m also not likely to blame the mechanic if my car breaks down because I haven’t looked after it.

That there are dodgy garages will be no surprise, but then we all know there are dodgy dental practitioners who, amongst other things, blatantly game the system because the lack of clarity in the current contract makes it possible for them to do so. I suggest however that there are a higher proportion of mechanics that are not ethically guided than dentists due to their lack of professional regulation, and to make an analogy between them therefore is somewhat clumsy and misguided.

Comments like these have more than likely damaged the working relationship between the CDO and the profession in my opinion, and shown that her

Honeymoon period is well and truly over

The open letter to the profession published in January in Dentistry from Col. Hurley suggested that budgeting the NHS funds appropriately was at the forefront of all the planned changes that she would suggest. No one would argue that this is appropriate and should be the way forward. In an era of austerity we have to look at how the finite funding is spent, and I personally agree that much of the NHS budget could be better spent than recycling the same healthy patients.

However, these are often those patients who take an interest in their dental care. When we have 50% of the population not attending a dentist at all, then the budget is going to be spent on those that do. Couple this to the failed UDA system that makes it a financial risk to take on too many high needs patients (who are often those who don’t value the service and miss appointments), then is it any wonder that the small businesses of dental practices need the repeat business of regulars to survive? The screaming lack of clarity that is present in the current contract, and in my opinion will remain in any new contract (purely because of the benefit to the Government and no-one else) is not likely to be addressed anytime soon. There is no appetite for the Government to officially admit dentistry is rationed, yet we all know it is, and instead a press release such as this could have helped both the patients and the profession by being honest about the amount of money the NHS has to spend on routine examinations.

For the first time, it appears an NHS manager (Chris Hopson writing in the Observer) has this weekend finally admitted that that aspirational wishes of the NHS are not met by the funding needed to provide them and rationing is likely in the future. Perhaps the ‘worried well’ that Col. Hurley is referring to as being seen so regularly should actually make way for those who cannot access treatment. Perhaps by publically endorsing a core service that is equitable for all would go a long way to meeting her desire to target the resources of the NHS more appropriately rather than once again making it the dentists fault as usual for the perpetual lack of funding to provide ‘world class’ healthcare for everyone.

So, instead of therefore criticising the dentists for seeing patients more often ‘than needed’, why didn’t she take the opportunity to actually say that the NHS can’t actually afford to fund this type of regular recall, and that it only has the funds to see patients once every two years? A comment such as this is more likely to get the support of the profession since we all know how poorly funded the system is, and yet it doesn’t alienate the profession so much. Suggesting then that the patients are still free to see their dentist 6 monthly, but under a private arrangement, would both inform the public of the truth about the parlous state of NHS funding, and gain the support from the vast majority of dental professionals by talking it out of their hands. Instead of encouraging the patients to question the integrity of the professional caring for them this would be more appropriate surely? It is a chance for her to stand together with the profession she is part of whilst still fulfilling the government need to obtain value for money with its funding.

What is amusing is the same papers ran a story only the week before stating that soldiers face a week in jail for missing dental appointments in a bid to reduce the amount of personnel unavailable for military deployment due to dental disease. Is this a not double standard? Coming from the military back ground she does, I’m sure Col. Hurley was aware of this issue before she became CDO. So when the public read these conflicting stories, how are they to make a decision? Is it that dental problems can be so bad that the army punishes offenders who don’t take responsibility for their dental care with jail; or that you don’t actually need to go to the dentist for 2 years? Which is the message about dental health that is correct?

We all have cases to robustly shoot down the 2-year interval theory. For instance, I have a low risk patient who I have been seeing for many years now. Probably one restoration every 6 or 7 years, good oral hygiene etc., and is in the early 40’s. At a routine 6 monthly I spotted a lesion under the tongue. This turned out to be a squamous cell carcinoma. It wasn’t there 6 months previously. They would be one of the patients that fit in the criteria of a biennial examination. I’m sure that would be of great help to a spouse and children if the patient had listened to the advice. Fortunately for the patient we expedited the referral appropriately. However, at the next 6 monthly, there was still some nodal involvement that we picked up. This fell between the review appointments at oncology, was pointed out to them, and now a neck dissection has been performed. Once again, the DENTAL problems were minimal.

What about the increase in the HPV+ types of Oral Cancer that are now being seen in younger lower (traditional) risk patients? Or subtle diet changes that misguided approaches to a healthier lifestyle involve that create more dental problems and more long term cost to the state? I can go on, and I’m sure there are many other examples that people can give.

I can think of NONE of my patients that I would be confident leaving for 2 years without some form of assessment. When you ‘get out of the mouth’ and look at patients as a whole it is astounding how many things can impact their oral health in so many ways, and 24 months is a long time indeed…Whilst I admit there are those patients who never seen to need anything doing, how do we know they won’t suddenly suffer a need for medication or have health issues that change their dental risk? Since the Government seem to fail to take responsibility for educating the population about the risks of the links between health and dental issues then many patients will not automatically seek our advice. When they then return with a mouthful of problems because of some misguided attempt to save the state money because we’ve had to accept the demand for a longer interval between assessments, then I know that we are going to get the blame, and the GDC and ambulance chasers are going to be rubbing their hands together in glee, whilst the DoH wash their hands of the responsibility.

I unfortunately have to keep hammering out to many of my local GMP colleagues that we are not blacksmiths any more, but highly trained medical and surgical colleagues who take a full view of the patient in a holistic manner, but concentrating on the head and neck. It would appear that solely concentrating on just the teeth and gums is what even our CDO feels we are doing given the tone of the comments in the press. I wonder when the last time she actually fully assessed and treated a patient from start to finish, and whether of not the pressure of a real (and not with an institutionalized cohort of patients) dental practice has been experienced.

The BDA press release the same day was suitably pithy; but in reality the message wont be important to the public given they usually jump on any chance to further hate our profession.

But if the headlines actually said something like ‘Dental Trade Union refuse to negotiate with Government’s ‘Top’ Dentist’ then this might allow us to start to get our message across. The DoH is perfectly happy to sensationalise headlines to further their own ends, so it’s about time we did.

 

 

 

©Simon Thackeray, GDPUK Lts 2016
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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.

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