‘Dentists are in an increasingly vicious circle’
I first got involved with the BDA in 1979, five years after I qualified, beginning with local committees and I have represented South Wales on the BDA Representative Body since 1995.
I became an elected member of the then Committee of Management of the BDA Benevolent Fund in 1992, which ceased when the constitution of the Benevolent Fund was changed in 1996. In 1998 I became the South Wales Branch Representative on the Benevolent Fund Board of Trustees. I took on the role of Chairman of the Fund in June 2011.
They shouldn’t be complacent, as tragedy can so easily happen to any of us at any time, and in so many different ways
Dentistry has been very good to me. I had wanted to be a dentist since I was nine years old. I have always enjoyed general practice, and I decided to get involved with the BDA and the Ben Fund because I wanted to put something back to the profession and help others.
It’s a very significant honour to be Chairman and I’m very proud to be so closely involved with the Ben Fund.
When you look at some of the cases, it makes you realise how lucky most of us are, and why dentists should get involved and donate to the Fund. They shouldn’t be complacent, as tragedy can so easily happen to any of us at any time, and in so many different ways.
It never ceases to amaze me how bad luck or misfortune can occur. I’ve seen cases where dentists have a handicapped child and then another child gets cancer. It sounds far-fetched, but it does happen. Parents die or separate and children need support; no one knows what’s around the corner.
When I first got involved with the Ben Fund, the people needing assistance tended to be widows, or people who had severe ill health and perhaps the odd addiction case.
The beneficiaries were older, and more likely to be of retirement age. In recent years, there’s been a complete turnaround and there are far more people of working age in need of help, even those who are newly qualified. Last year, 80% of our applicants were of working age.
I believe one of the main reasons for this is the General Dental Services contractual change that was brought in from March 2006, which changed general practice to a highly pressurised, target-driven culture. Before this, dentistry was recognised as stressful – if you didn’t work, you didn’t earn any money.
But after the crisis you could work longer hours to catch up. That is no longer the case in the NHS, and the dental budget is cash limited.
The new contract is certainly quite a significant factor in cases that we see at the Ben Fund. The problem is that if you’re ill, or have an accident, or suffer from stress or addiction problems and are unable to work to capacity, you can’t hit UDA targets in any given year. In the following year, those monies (UDAs) you’ve received but not earned are clawed back by the PCTs. So dentists can work hard yet earn nothing or hardly anything for months, because money is withheld from them.
New contract hardship
Without any doubt, the new contract is causing some hardship, making it difficult to impossible to work your way out of the crisis.
The other problem is that because of the contract, dentists are required to have a performer number to work. The difficulty arises if, for example, you suffer an accident or ill health, which leads to problems with performance, you may have that number taken away from you.
Even after remedial work it’s very difficult to get your number back. We see a significant amount of dentists who are capable of working but can’t get a performer number so they can’t get a job, yet on the other hand, if you haven’t got a job you can’t get a performer number – the perfect catch 22.
Now we’re looking at helping dentists to retrain in different areas of work, switching say from ordinary clinical dentistry to teaching or dental public health, so they can support themselves and their families.
One area of concern relates to dentists who have been suspended for a long time, sometimes many years, by the GDC for health reasons. In some cases, these dentists are taking on CPD year after year at an expense with realistically little hope of getting back on the register and returning to work.
By and large it’s a question of having to retrain, and this is where postgraduate deaneries come in. I’m involved there too, so I get to see things from both sides of the fence. It is very difficult if you’ve been suspended, whether it’s for performance reasons or ill health, to get professional indemnity too and even if you do, the premiums are very high. Dentists are in an increasingly vicious circle and financial help from the Ben Fund is more important than ever.
There are significant problems within the profession with drug and alcohol addiction, often stress related. The Ben Fund works with the Dentists Health Support Trust, who will give practical assistance, sourcing treatment and offering mentoring and counselling, but they can’t offer financial assistance. This is where the Ben Fund can help if needed.
We look after beneficiaries with regular or one-off grants, or we offer interest-free loans for dentists who need help in the short-term to get back on their feet.
The annual Christmas Appeal is still a major source of income, along with individual donations, branch dinners, and donations at BDA meetings and the national conference. The LDCs are also very generous, and we are so grateful for legacies. Last year, the Fund was in deficit and this year it would have been the same if it hadn’t been for the legacies we have received.
Contributions to the Fund are affected by the current financial situation. It is very difficult. There’s a great need for the Benevolent Fund, in fact demand is increasing every year, so it’s essential that the charity continues to survive. We need to raise not only money but also awareness of the Fund’s existence in order to reach the people who need our help. We’re not here just for BDA members; the Ben Fund supports all UK registered dentists and their dependents.
It’s so important that dentists realise tragedy can strike at any time. One moment everything appears under control, with a nice home, a nice car and then suddenly you can’t get hold of your assets, or are in very poor health and the rug is pulled out from under you.
Should the worst happen, the Ben Fund is here for you, and we urge the whole dental profession to help us to help their friends and colleagues in times of great need.
All enquiries are considered in confidence.
The BDA Benevolent Fund is a registered charity no. 208146