Hygienists and therapists call for ‘direct access’ to patients

Two oral health organisations joined forces in an effort to ‘promote access to oral care for the UK population’.

The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) in collaboration with the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT) held a reception for General Dental Council (GDC) members to discuss the future of dental access.

The event was well attended and included Evlynne Gilvarry, chief executive and registrar, Alison Lockyer, president of the GDC, David Smith, chair of the Standards Committee, Barry Cockcroft, chief dental officer for England, David Thomas, acting chief dental officer for Wales, and a number of dentist, DCP, and lay members.

The aim of the reception for both organisations was to demonstrate how the education, skills and abilities of dental hygienists and dental therapists enable them to meet many of the oral health needs of the UK population by working as part of the wider dental team.

Following the announcement by the GDC of a review of Standards and Scope of practice, both organisations felt it important the GDC members consider the wishes of their members that patients be allowed direct access to them so that they may choose to directly seek the oral care, already so provided through the current referral system.

The event was chaired by Sally Simpson, BSDHT president, and Kira Sterns, BADT chair and there was a series of short presentations from representatives from both organisations.

Margaret Ross, past president of BSDHT and senior lecturer and programme director of the BSc Honours programme at the University of Edinburgh discussed the strength of dental hygienist and therapist undergraduate training, education and delivery.

Margaret discussed the capabilities of dental hygienist/therapists as highly skilled professionals in recognising dental disease, formulating treatment plans, recognising oral abnormalities and understanding when referral was necessary for treatment outside their skills and abilities.

Margaret discussed how the learning outcomes of undergraduate training in those skills learnt by dentists and dental hygienists and therapists were almost identical.

She described other medical models of healthcare, which recognise the benefits to the population of direct access to healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, podiatrists, optometrists.

Michaela ONeill, BSDHT council member and elected member of the BSDHT executive team, described the working life of a dental hygienist as part of the dental team, outlining what is typically involved during an appointment and the duties she was currently able to undertake.

Michaela gave examples of how the removal of a referral could further enhance dental hygienists/therapists ability to provide the optimum treatment and management of dental disease within their competencies for all members of the general public.

Dental therapist Charlotte Wake described her role within practice, and outlined how the lifting of the requirement of a referral would benefit patients.

Charlotte discussed how she is often inhibited in her ability to restore her patients to optimal oral health due to the restrictions presented by referral, and how this often resulted in patients requiring additional appointments following re-referral from the GDP.

‘Direct Access’, she felt would allow for better use of time and resources and a better patient journey.

GDP Graham Dindol spoke in support of direct access from a dentist’s perspective. Graham has worked in collaboration with dental hygienists and therapists, in his practice for many years. He spoke of the advantages of skill mix in the dental team and how he felt direct access for patients to these highly skilled individuals within general dental practice would be of benefit.

Tony Newton, a trustee of the British Dental Health Foundation, spoke on behalf of patients in support. He presented four case studies to demonstrate how four particular patient types might benefit from direct access to a dental hygienist or therapist without a referral.

Mike Wheeler, BSDHT past president, and dental services manager at the University of Bristol and Universities Bristol NHS Foundation Trust presented the closing address, which summarised the topics that had been discussed throughout the evening.

Read the current Scope of Practice guidelines here

Email your thoughts about Scope of Practice to the GDC: [email protected]

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