A new kind of organisation
NJ: Can you tell us more about the driver(s) behind setting up the BAPD?
ST: It followed the CDO’s first webinar after lockdown was implemented, when it became clear that there would be no guidance for the provision of private dentistry. Two people, Luke Thorley and Jason Smithson set up a Facebook page, and a lot of people from various groups, including the BACD and one called ‘Movement to Quality’, were also up in arms, so everybody just joined forces.
We realised early on that this was not just going to be a flash in the pan. So, we started formalising the membership, setting up an AGM so that we could create a supportive organisation that represents private dentists during Covid-19 and in the long-term.
NJ: If you are in it for the long haul, how do you see the BAPD working with other groups such as the BDA?
ST: We are liaising with the BDA because they are the profession’s union who have traditionally had a seat at the table. I should declare that I sit on a lot of BDA committees.
The BAPD is not a union and nor does it, at this moment, have any desire to become one. While I feel a little torn between the BDA and BAPD, my heart lies with the latter because it is doing things the way that I’ve always felt the BDA should and hasn’t done, whether through willingness or ability.
As the new organisation with nothing to lose we’ve been able to be more like activists and say the unpleasant things that need saying, that perhaps the BDA politically wouldn’t want to say. Even though I’m quite involved with the BDA, I think that the BAPD would not have got so much traction, if it didn’t have the representation that the BDA should have had.
A lot of people have felt that the BDA have not represented private practitioners as vocally and as visibly as they needed to. The BDA’s argument sometimes is that it hasn’t needed to because the big issues are happening in NHS dentistry. And to a degree, that is true.
But when Covid-19 hit and practices were shut down, the BDA did do a lot but it was coming from a back position rather than the forward position of “we’d already considered this and we’d already got a private committee”. The BDA’s private practice committee has been moribund for years.
NJ: Who are you appealing to as members, and how might that differ from the BDA?
ST: We are looking at anybody who does anything private, I think 88 per cent of NHS practices have got some mixed element and we’re looking at those people as being fundamental members because what happens in the NHS is going to dictate what happens in private dentistry, and vice versa.
We’re also open to the whole team, not just dentists. We’re all in this together, I can’t do my job without the other members of the dental team and they can’t do their job without me, so that means we’re equally important to each other.
We recognise that other members of the team, such as self-employed hygienists, have their own organisations. But our thinking was, could they get access to a more vocal representation and could we bring it all together and take the intelligence from these different sectors, to get our trajectory right as to where private dentistry goes?
If we can be there for everybody in private dentistry, I would say that covers 90 per cent of the dental population in this country.
NJ: During the Covid-19 crisis we saw the UK’s different CDOs communicating in different ways. As a dentist based in England, what did you think of the English CDO’s approach?
ST: The whole reopening was handled very badly, from a communication and logistics point of view. We’ve been treated like mushrooms; we’ve been kept in the dark and fed manure occasionally.
A lot of people were geared up to open on June 8, however this was more from a private point of view, rather than NHS. There had been vast amounts of information for NHS practices, but none of it had any dates and that’s a problem. Dentists need times, they need criteria to work to.
If somebody had said ‘get yourselves ready to be open around the middle of June’, then in May dentists would probably have started to look at PPE and where SOPs would be coming from. But we were just in the dark until suddenly you see a ticker tape running across the BBC news saying dentists are now open from the 8th of June, and the patients see it at the same time as you.
NJ: You describe yourselves as a lobbying, rather than advisory group, and as an organisation you did some things that got a lot of press, such as the vote of no confidence in the CDO and sending a letter to Matt Hancock. Could you see the BAPD lobbying for a change of NHS contract, given what you’ve said about how much NHS and private dentistry are intertwined?
ST: We have discussed this. But there’s a mantra ‘stay in lane, stay in lane’, and our lane is private dentistry.
I think the BAPD’s position is clearly that it’s going to support private dentistry and we’re not in a position to try to influence that kind of thing because it wouldn’t be coming from the intimate knowledge of the NHS contracts. The amount of information and intelligence (in the military sense) that you need to understand your way through NHS contracts is significant.
We have the intimate knowledge of how our private practice is run but we don’t have as much of an awareness around NHS contracts, and we don’t necessarily need, or want to have, that kind of awareness because the BDA has got that.
That might be a natural progression for the two groups, and I think it’s important that they then work together, along with others like the ADG. But what I don’t want to do is say the BAPD will never represent the NHS or that it will, because it’s such a complex situation.
What I can say is, we’re aware of how the NHS will affect the private side of dentistry and that there is so much co-subsidy going on. We may have to take a position, but I don’t envisage us negotiating a contract.