Nailing his trousers to the mast

The purpose of a Minister’s speech, according to Yes, Minister is not to entertain, but to ‘nail his trousers to the mast’.

Once a Minister has spoken, as Earl Howe did at the BDA conference last week, the policy is then on the public record and he or she cannot resile from it.

This was with that at the back of my mind when I listened to his well-chosen words, carefully selected by his civil servants that is.

A clever official can slip something past an unwary Minister, think granny tax, pasty tax and hitting donations to charities in the last budget.

Unsparingly, Lord Howe opened by reiterating the Coalition’s aims for dentistry to improve access to the NHS and improve oral health generally, with a special focus on children. He supports the new pilots, with its emphasis on an oral health assessment and clinical care pathways.

One effect of these will be to make it more difficult for complex work to be carried out unless the risk of future disease is much reduced. It was perhaps surprising that he also emphasised the needs of older cohorts of the population, the so called ‘heavy metal’ generation.

Eyebrows were also raised by those who had endured the attentions of the Care Quality Commission, when the Minister said that checking on quality standards should not be a ‘tick box’ exercise.

Likewise when he said that if evidence was produced that HTM 01-05 needed changing, this would be done.

Lord Howe also paid fulsome tribute to those involved in the pilots, not only the participants and their PCTs, but also to the work being carried out by the BDA.I saw this as more than just being polite to his hosts.

The Government has lost the support of the British Medical Association over its reforms. It has no intention of alienating the BDA. The Minister was making sure that the Association’s thumb prints were all over the new contract.

If the next contract is popular with dentists, then the BDA will share the credit; but it is unpopular then those who helped build it will experience the wrath of their membership. Those will long memories will remember 1990 when the then General Dental Services Committee lost the confidence of dentists.

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