While we can all be justly proud about the fact that the Association boasts a record level of membership and our finances are in a reasonably healthy state, there can never be any room for complacency.
Earlier in the year we commissioned Better Boards to review governance arrangements within the Association and the Irish Dental Union.
This has been a very worthwhile exercise and I am pleased to report that they have given us a positive assessment and go on to say that “nothing emerged in the review that would currently give rise for any concern”. They add that: “With the desire to undertake best practice, there are some recommendations that, if implemented, would allow the IDA/IDU to reach that standard”.
They also state that: “The strengths of the current governance practice include the governance structure of the Council and Board, with appropriate delegation underpinning efficiency while maintaining representation. The commitment and dedication of the Officers and members of the Council is a key strength. The working relationship between the Board and the CEO and staff is also a strength, as it underpins a good working relationship while maintaining the appropriate oversight and performance management”.
The Better Boards report followed extensive research, including interviews with key volunteers and staff in the Association, and encompassed a membership survey and a benchmarking of governance arrangements with comparable professional representative bodies. The report has also allowed us to identify areas where further improvements can be made. I am pleased that a sub-committee comprising representatives of the Board and Council has met recently to flesh out ideas that emerged from the review, and I expect that we will see proposals presented to the Board and Council in September.
Ultimately, we are aware that corporate governance is not a static exercise and that there is a need to continuously review our structures and how we do business. It has been a very worthwhile initiative and the endorsement of governance experts has been very reassuring. We are all committed to taking the necessary steps to reach best practice standards in all aspects of our governance.
Readers may have noticed the emerging debate in the UK around the desirability of a sugar tax in recent times. This is an issue that has surfaced intermittently here in Ireland also. As an Association we have taken a fairly agnostic view on this issue and it is one that interests me personally very much. We are committed to producing a policy paper on this topic, but it is already apparent that we need to look at this in the broadest sense and also to look at issues such as food labelling, the impact of hidden sugars, and also the role dentists have to play in terms of general health promotion and the prevention of oral health difficulties, which are intrinsically linked with the overall health of the population.
Supreme Court case
As I prepare this message, the Union is awaiting a direction from the Supreme Court on a hearing of the appeal of the Reid and Turner case. Members will be aware that the Union committed extensive funds to supporting this case, which arose from the HSE’s decision to unilaterally breach the DTSS contract in 2009. This rendered untold damage to the DTSS, and more particularly to our patients, who no longer enjoy the level of access to dental treatments that prevailed previously. The Union is determined to ensure that our members’ contractual rights are vindicated and we will continue to insist to the HSE that they engage with us in an orderly manner and they respect the primacy of contracts, which dentists sign freely and which they expect the HSE to discharge in full.
We may be approaching the silly season where speculation is the order of the day and this extends very much to the political arena and the ongoing discussion as to when a general election may be called. As an Association, we worked closely with the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Pharmacy Union prior to the last general election, and we are making plans for similar co-operation in the coming months prior to a general election. In addition, we are preparing our own campaign, enlisting the help of members at local and regional level, in addition to our engagement with parties and politicians at a national level.
There is clear evidence showing that there is a relationship between the extent to which representative bodies engage in political campaigning and the consequences as regards decision making post the election. We have to maximise all our resources to ensure that the voice of dentistry is heard and that oral health is pushed higher up the agenda.
We firmly believe that it is not good enough to curse the darkness but actually we must seek to participate in advocating for better oral health and for our patients. This can only happen with the involvement of members in every parish and community.
Dr Anne Twomey