Honorary Editor PROFESSOR LEO F.A. STASSEN reflects on the opportunities provided by the reform of the Dentist Act.
The Association has reacted with great clarity to the consultation phase offered by the Department of Health prior to the introduction of a new Dentist Act. The reform of the 1985 Act is an opportunity to improve our regulatory provisions and thereby upgrade the provision of dental care in Ireland. Following considerable collaboration with a wide range of interests in the profession, the Association has made a substantial submission to the Department of Health. It addresses all of the main issues of concern to dentists.
Given the non-professional majority already introduced in the governing council of other related professions, it is likely that the Government will consider the same for dentistry. The Association argues that an equal number of lay and professional members would be in the best interest of the profession and the public. It specifically advocates the addition of representatives of auxiliary dental professions to the Board of the Dental Council.
On this issue, it is often observed that dentists are much more likely to be tougher on errant members of the profession than members of the public, particularly in relation to fitness to practice. In any case, the Association requests that the Dental Council should be asked to advise the public on functions relating to the practice of dentistry including care and treatment outside the jurisdiction where that care and treatment is advertised and arranged in Ireland but provided abroad.
Fitness to practice
There is a major concern among all health professionals about the proceedings of the fitness to practice hearings against medical doctors. In some cases, prominent media coverage has been given to the charges against the doctor at the opening of the hearing, causing severe anxiety for the doctor and their family. Where the doctor is subsequently cleared of these charges, a great inequity appears to exist. The Association has submitted to the Department that fairness to all parties is best served by insisting on the names of the parties not being published or broadcast outside of the hearing except and until charges of serious misconduct or poor professional performance are upheld.
There is an obvious need for recognition of a greater number of specialist divisions. In most other comparable countries, the number of specialist divisions ranges between nine and 13. Specialties should only be recognised within fields that require knowledge and skills beyond those possessed by dental graduates and which assume a specified period of postgraduate training or experience.
Everyone agrees on the need for mandatory CPD. However, the Association makes the point that detailed provisions for adherence to such an obligation would best be devised by the Dental Council. The point is also made that the HSE should support and facilitate the maintenance of professional competence by independent contractors that are engaged to provide care and treatment to eligible patients.
Direct access and other issues
A lack of clarity in the consultation documentation around the issue of direct access to auxiliary dental professionals has raised concern in the Association. It appears to give rise to a different standard of care being made available to certain and possibly more vulnerable cohorts of patients. This will need further discussion. On other issues, the Association wants:
- responsibility for registering and regulating practices to be given to the Dental Council;
- a lifting of the ban on incorporation of dental practices;
- establishment of mandatory registers for dental auxiliaries;
- consideration of a register for dental students and the introduction of a Foundation Training Scheme on graduation; and,
- adoption of American Dental Association style principles in relation to advertising of dental services.
In this Journal, we learn of the motivation of Association President Dr Seán Malone to communicate about the high standards of the profession in Ireland; and of the challenges dentists face in setting up a new practice, as experienced by Dr Nicola Zammitt.
In our peer-reviewed papers, we examine the attitudes of dental patients in Galway; test the effect of periodontal therapy on systemic inflammation; and, review the literature on commonly used topical oral wound dressing materials.
Prof. Leo F. A. Stassen