Bill Moyes is right: Hope for UK dentistry is change, not tradition

I’d like to thank the chief executive of the BDA Peter Ward for his article in the BDJ 216, 543 (2014) about the ‘worrying’ comments the new chair of the British Dental Council, Bill Moyes, made to The Times.

He couldn’t have done a better job at demonstrating how the BDA is allergic to change and is a hindrance to the success of dental professionals in this country – a great shame because it has the power and reputation to help them.

I’m not sure what Mr Ward knows of economics, but it seems he believes certain economic transactions are so sacred that asking how much they cost to deliver is simply out of bounds. He attempts to drive home his point by asking whether we should compare hip replacements with car spare parts. Well, why not? Surely people waiting for a hip replacement would rather get them sooner rather than later, and if a bit of supply know-how borrowed from mechanics helps it along I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.

What we’re talking about here is an arrogance of such proportions it’s hard to see at first. Mr Ward is essentially positioning dentistry beyond market forces and suggesting that everyday buying and selling activities such as groceries and going to the garage are somehow grubby and intrinsically below all things medical. That would be a harmless eccentric viewpoint if he weren’t at the helm of the BDA which is rearranging the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks rather than saving as many passengers as possible.

British dentistry a la the BDA is already taking on water but Mr Ward is doing his best to reassure its 22,000 members everything’s fine by portraying Mr Moyes as a lunatic with ideas that are so disrespectful they should be dismissed out of hand.

Mr Ward likens moves to commoditise dentistry to the industrialisation of the late 19th century, when his organisation was formed. Great efficiencies in manufacturing were indeed created, and moreover advances in technology allowed these efficiencies to be multiplied exponentially.

Unfortunately he misses his own point – this is already happening to dentistry. Corporate groups are gobbling up independent practices in the same way the great industrialists consumed our venerable cottage industries – the question is does he want his members to survive or not? It appears not so, if you’ll forgive me, why are we all paying his salary?

Mr Ward talks about the importance of trust, and how dentistry is not so much a commercial transaction as a relationship between the patient and the clinician who, in effect, is selling a part of themselves. He’s right, but NHS dentists currently have about three minutes to sell a part of themselves – that’s not enough, and so something needs to change.

Clinical knowledge, care, compassion and profit are not mutually exclusive. This was Mr Moyes’ point. Make a better business model that engages the market like Lidl or Waitrose and you will fund and deliver great clinical work. If it was the other way round and all you needed was clinical excellence for a lucrative career in dentistry we’d still be in the 1880s.

If you’d like to know how seriously Peter Ward takes his responsibility as an ambassador to the British public for dentistry, just take a look at his petulance here when asked about mercury – one of the most important topics in the public’s mind associated with dentistry.

Dr Simon Hocken

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