A new CDO for England


Michael Watson gives his thoughts on the new CDO

When NHS England announced the appointment of Sara Hurley as chief dental officer (CDO), it ended weeks of speculation, some well-informed, much not so.

As a former dental officer in the Royal Army Dental Corps, I am probably biased in welcoming the current head of the Army Dental Service to her new appointment.

However, her qualifications and CV are impressive and she has been described by someone who has recently met her as a ‘breath of fresh air’, something NHS dentistry needs right now.

I retired from the army long before she qualified, so I cannot claim to know her, but I did what we all do, I ‘Googled’ her.

I came across some work she had done a few years ago and a paper (Hurley and Tuck, 2007) she co-wrote on improving the dental fitness of the army, by altering the strategy for treating recruits, which was successfully implemented.

What interested me was that this project identified the problem and, within the existing budget, delivered a better outcome.

Problems in the NHS

The problems in the NHS are different from those in the army, the major issues being the care of children, the needs of an ageing population and periodontal disease not showing any improvement.

To improve outcomes the new CDO will need to look beyond delivering units of dental activity (UDAs) and making changes to the existing contract.

At present the contract holder decides what treatment to do in order to deliver a UDA target.

This may do nothing to improve oral health and stop children being referred for extractions under general anaesthetic.

What is needed is a different approach to commissioning services, just as in the army when a different approach was needed to treating recruits.

A breath of fresh air may be invigorating but is not always comfortable.

However, let us hope that Sara Hurley brings new thinking to the delivery of dental services in the NHS.


Hurley SJ and Tuck J (2007) Improving the dental fitness of the British Army by changing the strategy for dental care provision for recruits from a vertically equitable model to a horizontally equitable model. Mil Med 172: 1182–1185


  1. 1

    I had the privilege to have served with Sara Hurley! An amazing lady! An inspiration and defo the best person for the position!!! Awesome!!!!!!!!

  2. 2

    Periodontal disease showning no signs of improvement, no suprise there then. Maybe she should look to the Dentists for answers. From a dental hygienists point of view, I dont believe it’s about patient care but about the money. NHS Dentists dont want to refer patients to the dental hygienist, they want to do it themselves instead of paying a hygienist, FACT! I have been told in the past, its not worth it? I mean for who? Surely not the patient. If they do refer they expect, unrealistic goals ie full mouth root surface debridement to be done in 20mins with local anaesthetic. Any conscientious dental hygienist will tell you this is impossible. But its either done in that time or you look for another job. Lets hope Sara implements some huge changes for the benefit of the general public and for Dental Hygienists #CDO #Sara Hurley

  3. 3

    Try prevention and the right workforce to deliver that effectively …isnt that the basis of all good health care … It’s not rocket science.

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