Delivering a new approach to NHS dentistry

Michael Watson believes a new strategy is needed on the delivery of NHS dentistry in England

Sara Hurley is determined to provide a new approach to dental care and oral health, Michael Watson believes.

Outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall there are statues of three generals of World War II.

Two of them – Montgomery and Slim – are well known as field commanders; the third less so, General Alan Brooke, described on his plinth as ‘Master of Strategy’.

Alanbrooke, as he became known when we was made a peer, was head of the army and responsible for the strategy that, in the end, led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

No matter how brilliant the field commanders are, or how inspiring the politicians such as Churchill are, without a strategy the future will be in doubt.

Strategy for oral health

So I was interested, when attending the Pendlebury lecture at the Faculty of General Dental Practice to hear the chief dental officer for England, Sara Hurley, outline the key themes of her proposed integrated strategy for oral health and dental care.

Over the past 25 years I have heard many people, dentists, politicians and civil servants give talks about the state of NHS dentistry and have drafted one or two of the speeches myself.

They have dealt with policy, with current problems in the service, but never before, I believe, with strategy, where NHS dentistry is going.

In her speech the CDO sought to define strategy as a ‘term often used incorrectly to describe policy, but actually the necessary pre-requisite to any policy; a synthesis of all the ideas, interests and ideologies at our disposal; the “art of the possible” if you will.’

Strategy is about achieving outcomes, better oral health and reaching those people who are most in need of services, the young, the old and the vulnerable.

Critical reform

The CDO said that contract reform is ‘critical…if we are to make the transition from dental activity to oral health as the desired outcome of the NHS dental service’.

The contract should be a means by which better oral health is achieved, not an end in itself.

There is more to NHS dentistry than achieving a UDA target, although at this time of year, the contracted number of UDAs is probably uppermost in the minds of dentists and commissioners.

A new strategic approach is needed and, judging by her speech, Sara Hurley is determined to provide it.

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