Looking ahead

Now that work has restarted on developing a new model of care, perhaps the profession can focus on its future

03 May, 2022 / editorial
 Will Peakin  

On reflection, I’ve probably been guilty of over-using the ‘why oh why’ form of journalism in this column. Perhaps, in the two years of the pandemic, too many pieces wondering why this enforced period of inactivity had not been used to continue the work developing a new model of care which had been under way in the run-up to lockdown in March 2020.

There is still a part of me that wonders. But, maybe, it truly was not the right time to be discussing a redesign. Not only was the focus on merely surviving but, until the COVID-19 virus had been brought under control, we did not know in what state the profession would be left – nor could we usefully envision its future.

Today, we are in a different place. We know the impact felt by the profession. We know the enormity of dealing with the treatment backlog. But we also know the direction of travel that was signposted by the Oral Health Improvement Plan, published in 2018, and the aims that are still valid.

They are a system focused on the prevention – rather than treatment – of disease, the reduction of health inequalities, meeting the needs of an ageing population, increasing services on the high street, improved public understanding of services available, better governance for the sector, and increasing the skills mix of the workforce.

At a conference for dental trainees last month, organised by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Tom Ferris, the chief dental officer (CDO), began by saying that he wanted to look forward, not back. Not to dwell on decisions made as the virus took hold.

In the context of speaking to people beginning their professional journey, that was entirely correct. Both the UK and Scottish Governments have announced inquiries into the authorities’ handling of the pandemic, so there will be plenty of scope for people to question and for officials
to reflect.

The CDO did say that perhaps things could have been handled differently and that he and his colleagues, based on lessons learned, “need to sit down and write the handbook for any future CDO”. But now his focus is, again, on the new model of care. Before the pandemic, its components were an oral health risk assessment (OHRA), a prevention and periodontal care pathway, an NHS treatment ‘toolbox’, and a new system of remuneration.

“This is the immediate piece of work for us at the moment,” said the CDO, “where we will be reviewing where we’ve got to in light of the experience of the pandemic.”

However, this work has to be set in the wider context of a process which he described as “recovery, renewal and reform”” The first refers to the provision of a full range of care. The second to addressing the patient backlog. The third to “moving dentistry forward over the next decade”.

There is a lot to discuss. An opportunity for the profession to do so, and to look forward, comes on 24-25 June when The Scottish Dental Show makes a welcome return. For more detail, and how to register, visit the Show website.

But, first, read about the aim of John Gibson, Emeritus Professor of Oral Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, to walk 1,200 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats this summer – in the cause of suicide prevention, postvention and research. #onemanwalkingamilliontalking.

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