Interview by Susan Field
At the end of 2015, two stalwarts of the DDU will stand down from their current roles after nearly 50 years' combined service. Head of the DDU Rupert Hoppenbrouwers and his deputy Bryan Harvey may be taking a well-deserved step towards a quieter life, but the dento-legal team will continue to benefit from their considerable experience. This is what they told the DDU Journal about the changing face of dentistry and their future plans.
Rupert joined the MDU's dental division in 1987 in search of a new challenge, after successful parallel careers in general practice and dental education. "My professional life was varied and stimulating but I wasn't sure I wanted to do it forever," he explains. "I had always been interested in dento-legal work, having served on the LDC and the appeals panel which used to review prior approval decisions by the Dental Practice Board, so when I saw the advert for a dento-legal adviser, I decided to apply."
At the time, there were only three people in the organisation looking after the interests of many thousands of dental members. It sounds like mission impossible but as Rupert remembers, it was a different world: "It was a gentler age without the level of compensation claims and complaints we see now," he says. "At that time, for example, the GDC used to have two distinct hearing fortnights each year, in May and November, and these were very rarely full. Compare that with the present day when the GDC has up to six parallel hearings every working day, 52 weeks a year. And that is just one aspect of our work."
The increase in GDC cases highlights the radical changes in the profession in the 28 years since Rupert became a 'dry gloved dentist'.
Rupert Hoppenbrouwers and Bryan Harvey – taking a well-deserved step towards a quieter life
The increase in GDC cases highlights the radical changes in the profession in the 28 years since Rupert became a 'dry gloved dentist'. He explains: "Back then, dentistry was regarded as a disease repair service, whereas today there is greater focus on aesthetic procedures to satisfy consumer demand. While this can be financially and professionally rewarding, there is a price to pay in that patient expectations of what can be achieved may be unrealistic and this can make complaints more likely. As a profession our clinical standards remain high but we are also far more accountable than in the past to patients, the GDC and other regulators."
Evolution not revolution
During his time at the helm, Rupert has helped ensure that the DDU has successfully adapted to the changing face of dental practice. Among the most significant changes was the establishment of a distinct Dental Defence Union in 1994 to meet the needs of dentists and dental care professionals, but still very much part of the MDU.
Bryan joined the newly-formed DDU in 1995 after a long career in general practice. In contrast to Rupert, he still puts on his surgical gloves to treat patients every other week, and continues to chair the Essex LDC. While he acknowledges that he doesn't face the same day-to-day realities of our dental members, Bryan says: "It has been good to have kept my hand in because it means I am aware of what is going on in NHS and private practice through the local professional network and I can feed this back to my DDU colleagues."
Appointed Rupert's Deputy in 1997, Bryan has overseen a major technology shift within the DDU from paper to an electronic membership database and case file management, an important advance because of the growing size and complexity of the DDU's case work. "I agree with Rupert that the dento-legal climate has become much trickier," he says. "In my early days at the DDU, the average complaint could be settled with one letter. Now it can take three or four."
Increased demand on DDU services in recent years and a growing membership mean that the dento-legal team headed by Rupert and Bryan has expanded to 15 advisers, helping to ensure service standards remain high for dental professionals in need. Rupert is proud of the fact that "the culture within the DDU is still about professional collaboration where we are all focused on looking after members. So while we have become a more business-like operation, we have retained our not-for-profit ethos."
Bryan adds: "In one sense, we have been the victim of our own success in terms of workload because we are attracting so many new members, including many from personal recommendations. I think this is largely due to the speed and efficiency with which we are able to respond to members and the efforts we make on their behalf."
Neither Rupert nor Bryan will be saying a final goodbye to the DDU just yet. While they will have more time to devote to families and hobbies, both will continue as senior dento-legal advisers to support other members of the DDU team and share their knowledge and experience. Their new brief will encompass underwriting and risk management work, auditing advice calls and files, and mentoring and training new dento-legal advisers.
It is, however, the end of an era so what will Rupert and Bryan miss about working at the DDU? For Rupert, it is "the pleasure of meeting and working with such a variety of interesting and intelligent people."
For his part, Bryan points to an email he received from a grateful member thanking him for helping him get back to the job he loved. "That is one of the reasons I have enjoyed the job so much," he says, "the response we get from members makes it so worthwhile."
Factfile: Rupert Hoppenbrouwers
Qualified: University College London 1975
Joined DDU: 1987
Previously: GDP in Hitchin, Hertfordshire and Director of the School of Dental Hygiene at UCH
Other dento-legal activities: Chairman of the UK Dental Law and Ethics Forum
In private: Rupert has a pilot's licence and a share in a two-seater sport aeroplane which he uses to travel around Europe. When grounded, he enjoys cycling and recently completed a 500km ride between Paris and St Malo. He is a former child actor, and appeared in a total of five feature length films. He says of this period, "I was a has-been aged 12".
Factfile: Bryan Harvey
Qualified: The London, 1970
Joined DDU: 1995
Previously: GDP in Brentwood, Essex, vocational trainer and associate specialist in oral surgery
Other dento-legal activities: Chairman of Essex LDC, member of the LPN and still practices alternate Saturday mornings in Essex.
In private: Bryan has been interviewed about dentistry on daytime TV with Anne & Nick and by Chris Evans on the Big Breakfast. A former goalkeeper, he now referees for Saturday and Sunday League football matches and has just received an award from Essex FA to mark more than 40 years as a man in black.