Some Awkward Questions For Departing CDO

Some Awkward Questions For Departing CDO

In a remarkable statement the BDA have demanded that allegations of irregular procedures in the funding of a scheme that the Chief Dental Officer for England, Sara Hurley is involved with, are and investigated. The allegations relate to the CDO’s complex involvement in the setting up and running, including her directorships, of the University of Suffolk’s dental project. These irregularities would appear to include both funding and appointments.

In an unprecedented move the BDA have issued a statement in which Chair Eddie Crouch said, “These are very serious allegations that demand a full and thorough investigation.”

The belief that the CDO was on her way out, has been gaining traction. The recent GDPUK story has been confirmed by multiple sources and it would now appear that those that deal with the CDO and NHS England are also working on this assumption.

At a less official level there had been increasing speculation about the reasons and timing of this departure. GDPUK has been aware of serious concerns about the Suffolk project, including the CDOs involvement, for some time, but understands that legal issues prevented earlier publication. The Health Service Journal (HSJ) have however now published a piece which would suggest multiple irregularities in the University of Suffolk scheme.

The Suffolk project has been widely reported. Set up in response to the access crisis and even referencing the “Toothless” campaign in last July’s official announcement by the University of Suffolk, it aims to set up a centre for dental development on the Ipswich campus. The project had been in preparation for 18 months prior to its announcement in July 2022, and one of its three key components is to “develop a social enterprise offering NHS dentistry.”

Welcoming the project, local MP, Jo Churchill (Cons, Bury St Edmunds) commented that: “After being involved in months of discussion with the Chief Dental Officer, the ICB and academia,” she was “delighted to see progress.”

Publicly available responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, reveal various questions about the project. Some FOI’s have been raised about its funding. It is clearly a complex matter, since only on further questioning and requesting a review of earlier responses, did Health Education England (HEE) accept that there had been an error in some of their replies. What is now known is that HEE provided 1.5 million pounds to the Suffolk and North Essex ICB, as a contribution to starting the project. However there is no contract in place between HEE and the University, for delivery of dental education and training.

Despite the July 2022 announcement, as of November 2022, NHS England were able to confirm that they had not awarded any dental contracts to University of Suffolk, or University of Suffolk Ltd. Nor had any been issued to any community interest companies or social enterprises intending to deliver NHS dental services in the Suffolk area.

Some Awkward Questions For Departing CDO

According to the HSJ, both the BDA and a former NHSE director have expressed concern about potential conflicts, and that there were serious questions regarding whether proper competition was held before the 1.5 million was paid. There is also the question of why HEE whose responsibilities are education and training, appears to be funding a new healthcare provider.

HEE shares several board directors with NHSE and will become part of NHSE at the end of March 2023. One critic of the arrangements is Sam Shah, a dentist and former NHSE Director of Digital Development. He said, “What’s very strange here is that HEE has handed over millions for a CIC where it has no contract and where there isn’t an NHS service. NHS England is still the commissioner and responsible for contracting policy. Why would the chief dental officer go out of her way to become a director for University of Suffolk Dental CIC? Where have all the check and balances gone?” There are further comments and background on the Suffolk project in Sam Shah’s twitter account @healthyopinion

GDPUK is aware of further pending Freedom of Information requests on related topics, with at least one request that appears to have been ignored. This then forces the enquirer to involve the Information Commissioner which can often take a year, and is an effective delaying tactic. Despite this the awkward questions show no sign of going away, and the BDA’s involvement will ratchet up the pressure.

As already reported by GDPUK, the CDO has no shortage of projects set up to occupy her once she moves on. These generally involve dentistry, NHS care, a management role, and remuneration for what are likely to be part time posts. Indeed it is not uncommon to have as a non- executive director, someone with an impressive contacts book who may not be required to do much more than lend their name, and those contacts, to their new employer.

That this happens regularly, like it or not, is an established part of life in the UK. What can lead to difficulty is when there are suggestions that the timing or prior knowledge of such work may give an unfair advantage, or undermine fair competition and procurement processes, especially when involving the use of public monies.


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