Poor reviews for GDC roadshow
Stage-managed production offers audience little in the way of optimism
I should start by admitting that I am a cynic.
I think I always have been, but it has definitely got worse with age. This may be because I have seen a lot of political infighting and the damage done by people and factions who are unwilling to negotiate, compromise or work together. But I have also seen the very best of people. Different teams and organisations who do work together, putting differences aside to focus on the bigger picture, the greater good. Much of the best I have seen in healthcare, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it is the biggest political football of them all.
This meant that I approached the recent open GDC Council meeting held in Edinburgh with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, here was an organisation that I had heard so many negative things about: their fees are the highest of any regulator, far too high, with reserves that keep going up and up; they are only interested in witch-hunts, the profession live in fear of them; they are out of touch, they don’t engage, don’t even try and, if you don’t work in England – if you don’t work in London – then they’re just not interested. You name it, I had heard the criticism levelled against the GDC. But… here they were, in Scotland, the Council, the senior staff. They’d spent the previous day meeting people, getting updates, going out to visit practices and services. Now they were having an open Council meeting, with observers, questions from the floor. They were trying, weren’t they?
I tried to hush the cynical voice in my head, I really did. I sat down ready to be impressed but, as the meeting went on, that voice got stronger, louder, more insistent. I worked in communications for a long time; I know a PR exercise when I see one, and this was definitely one. It was very well done, but as time went on I felt more and more that I was part of an audience watching a play at a theatre. The actors were impressive, they said the right things, and said them well, but that just heightened the sense that we were watching well-rehearsed actors. The questions from the floor had been pre-selected in the main, and answers clearly prepared. When the panel went, in the GDC’s own words, “off-book” and invited impromptu questions from the floor, these weren’t really answered. When they spoke about dentistry in Scotland, and the visits and meetings held the previous day I was left with the overwhelming feeling that the whole thing had been like a royal visit. It had been more about being seen to engage and support, than actually engaging or supporting. The people involved still really had no clue what was going on in dentistry in Scotland; but would probably all go back to
Wimpole Street having ticked the Scottish box, happy, and not needing to think about it again for a while.
But then I am a cynic. There was every chance I was being grossly unfair, and my experience of the cold-blooded world of PR was colouring the event for me. Unfortunately, it turned out that I was not the only one. Speaking to other people who had been there, many felt the same. We admitted there had been points to promote optimism – when the GDC admitted that “a culture of fear [had] no doubt grown up in dentistry” and that they were trying to erode it. I think they genuinely meant it but, sadly, it will take a whole lot more than one stage-managed event to do that.
However, perhaps all is not lost. If they genuinely meant it then surely there is something to build on? After all, we are entering a period of huge change. A new Cabinet Secretary for Health in Scotland, a new CDO in Scotland (it would appear) and, as I write, an announcement of a new UK Health Secretary too! With change, comes real opportunity. Opportunity to engage, to listen, to learn, to bring people together. In this spirit, I am delighted that this issue we are able to introduce you to our new Clinical Editorial Board. Drawn from across dentistry, they will help support and steer the magazine as we continue to develop it, now and in the future.
I have been struck recently by how often I seem to hear the phrase “but not dentistry”. The cap on Tier 2 visas has been lifted for healthcare professionals – but not dentistry. The NHS is free at the point of access – but not dentistry. NHS Scotland employees are getting a 9 per cent pay rise – but not dentistry. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could also say, healthcare is riven with political divisions and politics gets in the way of everything – but not dentistry. Ah, says the cynic, typing as the GDC announce that the ARF will remain unchanged for 2019, wouldn’t it though…
Sarah Allen firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Scottish dental on twitter at: twitter.com/ScottishDental