NI DPC warning on ‘unacceptable’ crisis of morale caused by contract system
The alarming and worryingly low morale among Northern Ireland’s GDPs caused by working under the current contract system is totally unacceptable in a profession delivering patient care, according to the new chair of the Northern Ireland Dental Practice Committee (NI DPC), Richard Graham.
Discussing the major challenges facing GDPs in the next two years, Graham, who was elected in January, highlighted the negotiations towards a new contract that have stalled until the findings of an evaluation of the GDS pilots, which ended in August 2016, are published. The report is due later this year, when talks are expected to start again.
He said: “Until new contract arrangements are in place, Northern Ireland dentists operate in a ‘fixed fee per item’ system. And so, the most pressing challenge facing GDPs is making the present contract work, when year after year of inadequate, below-inflation pay uplifts to health service fees, allied to the refusal to implement the pay award in 2015-2016, have left practices woefully underfunded.
“This combined with lengthy delays in the implementation of pay awards of up to a year in Northern Ireland not only makes cash-flow management increasingly difficult and reduces the ability of practices to invest in equipment and premises, but also causes great anxiety, personal and professional stress.
“Widespread disillusionment with the current system is evident as recent official figures, from NHS Digital, show that the more time dentists spend on Health Service work, the lower their levels of morale. More than a third (33.6 per cent) of practice owners rate their morale as ‘very low’ and 29.5 per cent as ‘low’. The main drivers are longer working hours and carrying out more health service work.”
Graham declared: “These alarming and worryingly low levels are totally unacceptable among a profession delivering patient care, and the government can’t pretend this problem will just go away of its own accord or be addressed through a new contract.”
Graham, who has worked in general dental practice for more than 30 years, said that the Department of Health often pointed to the new contract as the panacea for all the current concerns, but practitioners needed more than the promise of a new contract, which may be years away.
“The very difficult environment for practitioners must be acknowledged and the full impact of growing costs on maintaining a viable dental health service must be recognised.”