More turmoil at the BDA – getting behind the issue

bda tony kilcoynePrivate Dentistry gets behind the real issues with the BDA after Tony Kilcoyne’s second resignation.

Whether you are an admirer of Tony Kilcoyne and his unique style, or not, you cannot but question what is happening at the British Dental Association.

Following his very public resignation, he brought to public attention his many concerns. These include the machinations of the Principal Executive Committee (the elected board of directors of the BDA). Tony chose to seek a mandate from the electorate. He stood again on an explicit platform of seeking members’ approval to campaign for change, for openness. All for what he regarded as personal justice.

At the core of this is an alleged dispute around conflict of interest. Tony is involved with a company that developed screening for the COVID-19 virus. His colleagues on the PEC seemingly found this involvement to be a serious conflict of interest. So much so, that his ability to be an impartial director were compromised.

Tony reports that this dispute was escalated following his re-election. He said that the PEC met, prior even, to his taking up his place to decide what action to take. Having been faced with a concerted and unified opposition to his position Tony has decided again that his position is untenable. He has resigned for a second time.

Position untenable?

Tony has sought to discover categorical definitions around the BDA rules on conflict of interest. At the moment the rules around conflict of interest are defined in the Association’s Memorandum and Articles under paragraph 42. These do not preclude a member of the PEC from holding directorships. Even with a company that contracts directly with the BDA.

As long as that conflict is declared and the member takes no part in discussions that relate to that company. It is hard to envisage where involvement with a screening company offering a complementary service to members could be seen as such a severe conflict. To a point where the Board has stated that Tony’s involvement with the company on the BDA PEC untenable.

Tony is not the only director holding other directorships. Several of the current members are revealed by a quick search of Companies House to hold directorships in companies other than their dental practices. It is, of course, possible that the BDA were or are in the process of developing a service. This would have been a direct competitor to the company that Tony is involved with. Clearly such development could be confidential. As with many such contracts, there may be a non-disclosure clause preventing open discussion; we cannot know.

An EGM to change the rules

Tony has revealed that the BDA now intends to seek at the AGM to alter the Articles of Association. This is in order to facilitate a more deft removal of dissidents from within its midst. This is not the first time that the PEC has changed its rules after a dispute with a member of the PEC.

In 2014 the then PEC, many of whose members are still there, took a dispute with the then chair of the PEC, Martin Fallowfield. This reached a level where they called an Extraordinary General Meeting. The rules were changed to facilitate removal of an elected chair.

The circumstances around that dispute were never revealed by either party. However a search of the documents deposited, as legally required, at the Office of The Certification Officer of Trade Unions reveals that the Association paid a considerable sum of money to the former chair in consideration for loss of office. This was a sum of money that was hidden from the usual reports presented to members.

Failed representation

Both of the members that the BDA PEC have sought to remove were outspoken advocates of private practice. They were both known for their unwillingness to remain silent about many issues. Many dentists feel that the BDA has failed miserably in its representation of private dentists and private dentistry, so much so that we have seen the establishment of the British Association of Private Dentists, a group with a growing reputation. There was a dearth of help provided for private dentists.

This was through the enforced closures occasioned by the Office of The Chief Dental Officer. Many feel that the response of the BDA throughout COVID-19 has focussed on NHS dentists and NHS patients. Perhaps the greatest conflict of interest affecting the PEC is the degree to which its senior elected officers are holders of large NHS contracts?

One is left wondering whether the PEC are aware that in sticking so rigidly to their stance in their dispute with one elected director they are sending a clear signal to all those members who voted for him, that their views are neither respected nor welcomed.

It is not an endearing spectacle for an organisation whose membership is already way below 50% of the Dentists’ Register, and falling year on year. One which looks increasingly irrelevant to whole swathes of the profession. Younger members, associates, private practitioners and members of the wider profession such as hygienists, therapists, technicians and nurses, might all wonder at the right of this organisation to call itself the British Dental Association.

This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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