Did anyone shout stop?

Old surgeons, in the days before antibiotics, used to have a saying ‘never let the sun go down on undrawn pus’.

The abscess needed to be drained to let the poison out. After last week’s clash at the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee (GDPC) meeting last week, it is a lesson that the Association should heed.

Not that you would think this after reading chief executive Peter Ward’s latest offering in BDA News. He wrote: ‘Current rumour has it that the BDA is adrift in a sea of crisis, But this is really not the case.’

The way to scotch rumour is the address it head on, but the BDA reverts to type, its usual secretive self.

I was around at three previous crises of the BDA, the enforced resignation of its Secretary, Keith Johnson in the 1980s, the ousting of the GDSC’s contract negotiating team in the 1990s and the financial crisis of 10 years ago which led to my own redundancy from the organisation.

The reasons for the problems were different in all cases, and are different this time round.

The BDA reaction was the same in all cases: put up the shutters and admit to nothing. What changed last Friday was that a powerful committee (the GDPC) called the Principal Executive Committee (PEC), in the form of its chair, Martin Fallowfield, to account. It is alleged that a former president of the Association called on him to resign.

It was, by all accounts, a stormy meeting. It unanimously passed a resolution calling for an emergency general meeting of the BDA’s UK Council ‘to examine the impact of the new membership structure on the Association'. The effects are now out in the open – a deficit of £3.4 million and redundancies for 21 out of 153 staff.

The reason is a gross miscalculation of the numbers who would take up the three categories of membership.

In particular, it was estimated that only 40% would choose the cheapest tier. In reality, 73% opted for this. So much for the focus groups that had suggested a far higher uptake of the more expensive categories.

There has not been a drop in membership, just increased numbers taking the cheapest option.

A glance at the membership profile and a moment’s thought would have suggested that this would be so. Most BDA members are either associates in general practice or in the salaried services, two categories likely to opt for the lowest tier of membership.

Added to which practice owners who might be expected to want one of the higher options were given the option of only signing up as and when they wanted one-to-one advice.

This is a bit like an insurance company saying they will insure your care third party but, if you have a crash, then you can pay a bit extra and have comprehensive cover for the time of the accident.

Did nobody carry out a basic risk assessment and see it was doomed at the outset to failure? Did anyone shout stop? If they did, did anyone listen? The real tragedy for the BDA is to lose knowledgeable and good members of staff through no fault of theirs, while those responsible apparently keep their jobs.


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