Change was the theme of Susie Sanderson, Chair of the BDA Executive’s, speech in Manchester last week – both clinically and politically.
She opened her address at the BDA Conference with: ‘This is a period which has witnesses an unprecedented degree of change for the profession – and change that is set to continue.
‘All of us in this hall today are engaged with that change – with managing it, with surviving it, with trying to understand it, to influence and shape it, and with identifying the threats it brings and, may be, being brave enough to seize the opportunities it brings.
‘Who could have envisaged the damage, disruption and distress generated by the new contract on the profession’ she asked the packed auditorium.
She referred to the professional changes as well as the technological advances that ‘only a decade ago seemed stuff of fantasy’.
This included the use of new technology as a remote learning tool, the use of lasers and ‘the growing reliability and effective treatment planning for the placement of implants’ which she said had opened the door to a whole new range of options for patients and clinicians.
These changes, she felt, were fuelled by patient demand.
‘Patients have become consumers, informed through the internet and, perhaps, inspired by the latest TV makeover programme,’ she explained.
She also emphasised how dentists were having to face clinical developments which were throwing up ‘practical, clinical, ethical and sometimes, when it comes to tooth whitening, legal dilemmas’.
Regarding facial aesthetics, she reasoned that ‘for some it’s an exciting and logical development, for others, anathema.’
With NHS income for general dental practitioners falling since the 1990s, she felt that ‘for many who have shifted the balance of their practice, private dentistry has given you the opportunity to work the way you want to – without any sense of compromise.’
Ms Sanderson listed the problems the profession still faced following the 2006 contract’s ‘bleak second birthday’ – access continues to ‘give problematic issues for many’ and pointed out that the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body report in April had reported ‘significant numbers of dentists remaining sceptical about reforms’ and was ‘concerned about motivation’.
She also welcomed the setting up of the House of Coomons’ Health Select committee, seeing it as the government finally acknowledging that there is a problem for the profession.
Also referring to the recent Patients Association survey, she said that dentistry remains the top health issue concerning MPs’ constituents.
She said that the public realise the ‘row over the new contract isn’t about a group of professionals being difficult for the sake of it or being protectionist’ but that, in general, there was a ‘recognition that the new system is seriously flawed and its implementation was appalling’.
She went on to emphasise the need by GDPs to work with Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) over local commissioning and promised the BDA was there to help, arguing that commissioning should be a ‘two-way process’ between PCTS and GDPs, claiming ‘if we don’t engage… we will miss opportunities and be left with threats.’
She concluded: ‘For us, as dentists today, things have changed. But for us to take control, we must change too.’