EXCLUSIVE: BDA ‘toxic at the top’ and refuses an independent external investigation

Tony Kilcoyne lifts the lid on his time at the BDA and why he thinks the organisation needs big changes at the top before it can move forward.

After raising serious concerns about the very top of the BDA organisation, have there been any further developments?

Tony Kilcoyne: Yes. I have asked the CEO of the BDA for an external independent enquiry. But this has been totally rejected.

They see absolutely no problems keeping any investigation only internal to the BDA via their own scrutiny committee and away from external eyes.

I have already explained this is inappropriate. Due to such serious concerns involving senior people, that the BDA itself inevitably conflicts with now.

Further, they’ll know their own people involved personally. And the perception externally could be that of a cover up, rather than one of objectivity, openness and fairness, to genuinely achieve any deep cultural changes needed.

These are very serious allegations. Apart from your own direct experiences, do you have any evidence that supports your own observations?

Tony Kilcoyne: Sadly yes and too much to list here.

However, even just going back to December, having been re-elected by the profession to the UK PEC board seat and before I even wrote or published this annual Telegraph letter (which highlights our profession’s concerns publicly, signed and supported by many), I find the BDA taking part in both personal attacks. And even evidence of secretly conspiring with the DH and NHSE.

Indeed, let me quote to you directly from a secret email trail involving senior BDA people on the 19 December. Before any letter was written: ‘A member of our board, Tony Kilcoyne – who looks a bit like Jabba the Hut and is equally as charming – writes a letter every New Year to the Telegraph full of outrageous and baseless claims because he’s a total narcissist.

‘He’s not NHS, but writes about the NHS, and invites a few hundred private dentists to join him.

‘These have included claims British kids teeth are worse than those in the third world. It is usually so far removed from reality it is not useful or engaging. And we have agreed informally with DH and NHSE to ignore.’

Can I just remind readers that over 1,000 dental colleagues (mostly NHS) signed that letter. Which the Telegraph published on the 2 January 2020.

Readers can search online for ‘Tony Kilcoyne Telegraph letter’ or view how dentistry.co.uk reported upon it too.

How endemic are things like this in the BDA?

Tony Kilcoyne: Well, such undermining of genuine concerns and the personal gas lighting to others, certainly seems to involve a clique at the very top of PEC and BDA management.

This is an affront to not only what is decent and honourable, but also a huge insult to the BDA constitution and its members.

The same members who re-elected me knowing well what drives me – to achieve progress for all.

Just imagine what else they might say about someone more vulnerable than I or with a protected characteristic?

A further email linked to the above gaslighting states: ‘Conversations with Mick and Martin concluded, and if – as per tradition – Mr Kilcoyne has his usual ranty letter in the Telegraph on 2 January or 3, please ignore entirely.

No comment will be offered to trade, even upon request, and no need to include in media reports.’

Clearly where such serious toxic culture exists, it needs a serious antidote!

So what happened in January after publishing the Telegraph letter?

Tony Kilcoyne: Well the undermining and blocking of progressive initiatives didn’t stop there. Within or out with of the BDA.

To the PEC, numerous issues had been raised about the lack of BDA progress, our looking afraid to speak out loudly. From illegal dentistry including online orthodontics, whitening, the GDC sitting upon their laurels, lack of legal representation at GDC hearings, plus better BDA communication needed with the profession including social media, fairness and equality, private dentistry etc.

Indeed another PEC board member suggested setting up a rapid-action working group for matters like GDC issues. But this was shot down and sidetracked by those with power.

Indeed the chair of ethics, education and teamworking (whose responsibility/remit much of this was), really wasn’t happy when I spoke out about a lack of progress later in January on various matters.

So in another secret email she wrote to the chair of PEC: ‘Can we just tell him to resign from the PEC if he thinks we’re so crap?’

Of course it is my job to question, challenge and indeed represent those who voted me onto the PEC board.

And frankly it is such action that many colleagues want to see from the BDA.

Instead it seems to decide to undermine and look for reasons to get rid of me. Rather than do something constructive about the growing problems dentistry faces.

Hoping to see the chair respond back responsibly, his reply simply encouraged such undermining behaviour. Stating about my willingness to resign: ‘It’s not in his vocabulary and his self belief DWARFS his self awareness.

‘At least I think I’ve irritated him :).’

So this is the PEC chair communicating to the chair of ethics on the PEC Board. Who then communicates with senior management or key staff members above, at separate levels, to the majority of PEC.

Just imagine how such dynamics could isolate, chew up and spit out any new dentist members elected to PEC. Especially if they dare question the status quo. Or persist in asking why the BDA can’t do things more assertively.

What happened next?

Tony Kilcoyne: Well the above is still only January 2020.

Next we have a PEC training day on team-working, equality, diversity and mutual respect in early February. Followed by a full PEC meeting the next day.

If you think the above is revealing, well, I can write a whole chapter just upon February’s many antics too.

Indeed it is turning into a book; the more you scratch at the surface, the more scandalous or worrying things one uncovers.

It certainly makes a mockery of the BDA response to my last whistleblowing article. Saying: ‘We don’t recognise this account of events’. Doesn’t it?

A phrase of denial used by DH civil servants commonly too, by the way. Along with: ‘I have no recollection of those conversations’. Convenience?

But what about the BDA saying your resignation was all about a conflict of interest regarding antibody screening services by dentists?

Tony Kilcoyne: Well, quite simply, that is a red herring.

One has to ask, what conflict? When even BDA Indemnity says it covers dentists and their teams offering antibody testing in practice.

As described previously, I already declared and mitigated this in accordance with BDA articles and systems appropriately. To exclude myself where necessary etc.

The debacle was not really about conflicts of interests. Though the BDA did manipulate and catastrophise it that way it seems.

What do you feel should happen now?

Tony Kilcoyne: The only way now the BDA is going to truly fix this issue right at the top of the organisation, is to have an external independent investigation into the serious matters I have whistleblown about so far.

Clearly I or others can have no faith upon internal self-investigations alone, given the above.

The BDA is a members organisation. And at the AGM due soon (after several delays already), members’ can easily make motions demanding such external independent investigation. If the BDA CEO continues to block enacting this necessary option.

Furthermore given that the PEC is about to have it’s own ‘internal’ elections for a new chair, vice chair and chair of ethics, there is a significant danger that this toxic culture will perpetuate and/or a full external investigation, becomes suppressed through self-interest, if the wrong people get put into power.

Thus the whole PEC should resign. And those who wish to stand again, can make their case to all the members. To whom the BDA truly belongs. With others challenging them appropriately and fairly.

If the PEC individuals won’t resign on principle (because it is not in their vocabulary?), then there are other mechanisms, which GDPC and UK council can call upon to ensure a PEC ‘reset’ in the profession’s, and indeed public, interest.

When the BDA has lost its integrity as above, riding roughshod over the Nolan principles, then it needs this moral and ethical reset. As difficult as it is. In order to actually become the great and fair organisation dentistry needs going forward.

Please rest assured, I do recognise there are many good parts and good people in the BDA. Those who like me feel frustrated and very badly let down.

Just a handful of rotten apples, well camouflaged, can spoil the whole barrel.

It is imperative for a progressive BDA of the future, to totally eliminate professional jealousy, negativity, culture of gas lighting, power-cliques or conspiring with the DH/NHSE against fellow colleagues who genuinely raise concerns in the public interest.

Indeed, it is my professional duty to expose such deep betrayal of colleagues or ethical standards.

I hope those reading this can appreciate how difficult, stressful and necessary this has been for me to do, to protect others going forward.

How many more might the BDA silence, disable or conspire against, without serious preventive action now?

I fear we are literally just seeing the tip of the toxic iceberg here. Only a fully independent external investigation can achieve the deep cleansing needed at the BDA.

This is one action that we must not sideline, delay or distract from doing, now!

BDA response

BDA chair, Mick Armstrong, says: ‘We are sorry that Tony Kilcoyne decided to resign from the Principal Executive Committee.

‘However, it is clear that as the BDA’s statutory board of directors and principal decision-making body, PEC members have a responsibility to account for, and manage, any perceived conflicts of interest.

‘Dialogue around Tony’s financial interest in and advocacy of a screening company was ongoing at the point of his resignation.

‘Contrary to Tony’s assertion, this conflict management is not a “red herring” but fundamental to good governance.

‘Tony is raising allegations not brought forward during his time on the PEC. It is fair to say that former PEC colleagues would dispute his version of events.

‘The BDA offered Tony the opportunity for the BDA’s Scrutiny Committee to investigate his concerns.

‘Within the association’s governance structure, that committee is independent of, and has oversight over, the PEC’s activities, reporting to the BDA’s UK council.

‘It is entirely the appropriate committee to investigate these issues.

‘I welcome the chance to hear Tony’s concerns. The offer remains open for him to set them out in detail.

‘Tony has so far declined to do that.’

Disclaimer – all content is the personal opinion of Tony Kilcoyne and is stated in the public interest, totally independently to any posts held in the past, currently or in the future.

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