The General Dental Council’s decision to allow direct access to some dental care professionals (DCPs) had a mixed reception from the profession.
Understandably the hygienists and therapists were jubilant, having campaigned for this result for years.
The British Dental Association (BDA), by contrast, described the decision as ‘misguided’, saying it undermined ‘best practice in patient care,’ an opinion hardly likely to endear them to other members of the dental team. Judith Husband spoke of the change being ‘pushed through without proper reference to the risks it creates’.
Just what is the risk of patients having their periodontal disease treated by a hygienist rather than a dentist? It is just a scare story borne of arrogance.
In my view, dentists do have good reasons to be worried about this change, but patient safety is not one of them. It is something that is always wheeled out. I can only suppose this is to gain the moral high ground. It must look from the outside as dentists defending their self interest.
Dentists are the leaders of their teams. Good leaders do not denigrate others in the team. They recognise their strengths and abilities. The leader lets others in the team carry out their tasks within the limits of their ability. Direct access allows DCPs to work independently but within their competence and scope of practice.
Dentists will feel under threat from competition. Last year’s Office of Fair Trading report recognised this, but believed this would be good for patients, to have choice about who carried out their dentistry. The threat for dentists, of course, is that more competition leads to lower prices.
The greatest risk for dentists lies in the future if the current pilots are rolled out across the country. Treatment will be delivered under a care pathway. Most patients will receive simple care, which can well be delivered a hygienist/therapist. Relatively few will have more complex treatment which need a dentist’s skills.
Dentists without additional skills will find themselves in competition with lesser-paid DCPs. This is a threat to their livelihood and a legitimate cause for concern for the BDA. But please don’t wrap it up in pious words about greater risk to patients.
By Michael Watson, Dentistry news correspondent