As the festive period approaches, Ros Keeton, chairman of the BDA Benevolent Fund, shares how the charity helps in times of hardship.
For those who do not yet know, can you tell us who the BDA Benevolent Fund helps?
We support all dental students, dentists and their families when they face financial hardship; supporting those who do not have the funds to pay for some of the normal things in life.
I think it’s important to highlight people do not need to be a member of the BDA to receive help. This is a common misconception.
In what possible ways?
Well, no two requests are the same. We want to be flexible, determining assistance that best meets the needs of the individual, within our resources. The BDA Benevolent Fund is a charity supporting people financially, offering funding that isn’t repaid. Often this is to help with day-to-day living costs such as food, utility bills, or short-term rent/mortgage payments, to give people a break during adjustments to longer-term finances. We also want to ensure that people can get back into work and become financially independent. Therefore, we assist with indemnity payments for a few months. Or towards meeting with the deanery or funds to help them get their CPD up to date.
Over Christmas, we offer additional support so people who are struggling feel a sense of normalcy. For example, ensuring the children of those we help do not miss out on a present. Or that no-one spends Christmas Day alone because they cannot afford to travel to their family. We do this throughout the year for people of different faiths too, but we get more requests in the winter months.
Throughout the festive season, people often want to give back. What can people do to help?
Of course, the BDA Benevolent Fund appreciates all donations! We accept cheques in the post, but more people are donating online than ever before. You can call the office to get our details and then organise a BACS transfer so we receive the full amount. Or donate securely online via the Virgin Money Giving platform and the following link – www.bdabenevolentfund.org.uk/donate.
We appreciate that not everyone is able to contribute financially. There are other things people can do. General awareness is quite low and so we want to ensure everyone in the profession knows we are there for them in times of crisis. We’re asking people to sign up to our newsletter or follow us on social media. Then they keep up to date with our activities and, importantly, have our details in case they or their friends and colleagues need them in the future.
Can you give examples of when the BDA Benevolent Fund has helped?
First of all, I think it’s important to say that the people I’m going to talk about have waived their anonymity in order to help us raise awareness of how the BDA Benevolent Fund has helped, for which we are extremely grateful.
That said, one beneficiary is a graduate dental student whose father was killed by a terrorist in 2004. Her mother is mentally and physically disabled, and so unable to work and provide an income for herself or support her daughter throughout university.
In her final year, Josie couldn’t work part-time to help make ends meet. Unfortunately, her mother also had a stroke and needed 24-hour assistance. She travelled back to look after her mother whenever she could, including just before sitting exams. This added pressure meant she went to see a psychologist to deal with the stress.
She bravely reached out to us for help and we were there for her every step of the way. Josie told us that it lifted a huge weight off her shoulders and that, considering all the obstacles she faced, she did not think she would have graduated without our help.
Any further examples?
On another occasion, Chris, a well-established dentist, diagnosed encephalitis and associated epilepsy, which isn’t listed as a critical illness in his insurance policy. He faced mounting debt, had no income, had used up his savings and didn’t know how to pay the rent.
A friend suggested to him that we might be able to help. We gave him funds for living and housing expenditure for a few months until he had recovered sufficiently to return to work.
Dominic, a dentist from Leeds, applied for assistance following a serious road traffic accident. A keen cyclist, a lorry knocked him down at a crossroads on the way to work, suffering head injuries as well as fractures in both arms. Working privately and off work for a few months, he had no sick pay or income and was unable to provide for his wife and children. We’re really pleased he has made a good recovery and returned to the profession he loves.
Why do you think the work of the BDA Benevolent Fund is so important?
The impact of the relatively small but incredibly caring and generous group that makes up the dental profession cannot be overstated. The truth is, you can’t stand outside a shop with a tin and collect money for local dentists in trouble. The general public are more likely than not to think it’s a con or a joke.
Dental professionals are not immune to life’s troubles; yet most of us never imagine it happening to us or our friends. The reality is that circumstances can change so quickly. Not everyone has sufficient provisions to be able to cope with an extended time out of work due to mental or physical ill health.
It’s down to the profession to care for their own. Working together under the auspices of the BDA Benevolent Fund, lives can change for the better on an ongoing basis.
If someone is worried about someone they know or find themselves in difficulties, what should they do in the first instance?
Reach out to the BDA Benevolent Fund without delay, please. Even if you are unsure if the charity is the right resource for your needs, get in touch. We’re always happy to take a call and, if we can help you, we will. If it’s not something we can help with, we will do our best to signpost to other services and resources to get you back on track.
What advice can you offer someone who is suffering financially but feels embarrassed or anxious about making contact?
First of all, I would like to say that there is no shame in needing and asking for help. Actually, there is strength in that. However, all the information sent in and discussed by the BDA Benevolent Fund’s team is confidential. It will be only be viewed by the people who are processing your request.
If you would like help from the BDA Benevolent Fund, simply call 020 7486 4994.