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Too many, too few or just right?

A review has been launched into the number of dental public health consultants, amid fears the current set-up is confused.

Public Health England will investigate whether it has 'too many, too few or the right mix of staff' to carry out its responsibilities.

And it will examine the employment of some consultants on 12-month contracts, after the British Dental Association (BDA) raised concerns.

Earlier this year, Dr John Milne, chairman of the BDA's general dental practice committee, said: 'We continue to urge Public Health England to make these posts permanent.'

Now Public Health England (PHE) will make a decision about the use of short-term contracts, as part of the more wide-ranging inquiry.

The organisation argued it had already made significant progress since the overhaul of the NHS just over one year ago, before which there were 'wide variations'.

Since the autumn, four vacant posts had been filled on a permanent basis and a further three on fixed-term contracts, but 'some positions remain unfilled'.

A spokesman said: 'Under the old system, there were wide variations within dental public health.

'Some consultants in dental public health were employed by Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, with some consultant posts located within one organisation, and others shared between two or more.

'It is too early to say whether there are too many, too few or the right mix of staff to enable PHE to deliver its dental public health functions, or to comment on the position on the fixed term contracts.'

The review was announced in answer to a question tabled by Lord Colwyn, a former dentist and a Conservative peer, who inquired about the use of 12-month contracts.

In reply, Earl Howe, the health minister, said: 'A decision will be made on the fixed term contracts as part of the review.'

The issue arose alongside concerns about the strength of dental representation on new Œhealth and wellbeing boards' (HWBs), under the wing of local authorities.

Although HWBs must include representatives from local commissioning groups and social services, there is no requirement to co-opt experts from dentistry.

Furthermore, it appears no official statistics are kept to record how many of the 130 boards do boast dental professionals.

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