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News / January 6, 2017

Dentists treating most vulnerable failed by Stormont

by Guy Hiscott

The British Dental Association (BDA) has lambasted the Northern Ireland government for backtracking on an agreement to modernise the contracts of community dentists, who serve the most vulnerable patients.

In March 2016, an overwhelming majority of dentists voted in an official ballot to support an agreement reached between the BDA and Stormont on a new contract, following seven years of negotiation. While funding was set aside by the Department of Health in early 2016, and allocated to local trusts, the Department of Finance has since claimed no agreement has been reached.

The BDA has been able to push officials to unlock money for needed training, but it is now calling on ministers to honour the agreement, and finally bring these contracts into the 21st century.

They are the only health service workers in the UK not to have had their terms and conditions modernised since the 1980s

Grainne Quinn, chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Salaried Dentists Committee, said: ‘These community dentists are the only health professionals left in the UK working under contracts drafted three decades ago. Last year we reached an agreement to bring their terms and conditions into the 21st Century, but ever since ministers and officials have been stalling.

‘It has been very frustrating for these dedicated professionals who are serving the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland. It means they have spent a year not even knowing how much leave they are entitled to, unclear if a promise of nearly two years of backdated pay increases will ever materialise, or when this situation will be resolved.

‘It’s an absurd situation. For 12 months the money set aside has been sitting in trusts’ bank accounts gaining interest while officials in Stormont squabble amongst themselves over whether an agreement was even reached.

‘All we are asking for is for ministers to honour an agreement negotiated in good faith and implement the agreed terms and conditions as soon as possible”.

The Community Dental Service in Northern Ireland provides dental care for people of all ages including children and adults with learning disabilities, patients with health problems, phobias, and those unable to leave their homes.

They are the only health service workers in the UK not to have had their terms and conditions modernised since the 1980s.