What does it mean to be a dental professional today?
After the last two years of firefighting the question may raise an ironic smile, but the GDC is currently seeking examples in order to arrive at a shared understanding of professionalism in practice. Its objective is to develop new principles of professionalism and a review of standards and guidance - 'Standards for the Dental Team' will be 10 years old in September 2023.
While the context of dental practice has certainly changed, I believe that the central tenet of professionalism will always be to act in the best interests of patients. I saw my dental practice as an opportunity to help and support patients and I am sure most of you feel the same.
While I am no longer a practising dentist, I still get satisfaction from making a positive difference, but now the focus has shifted to representing dental professionals. Indeed, one of the reasons I am proud to lead the DDU is because as a mutual organisation, it is owned by its members and operated entirely for their - your - benefit.
This principle applies across all our activities, whether it be offering a prompt piece of advice on the phone, general risk management advice, robust defence of a clinical negligence claim or guidance and support in responding to a GDC allegation.
Members for members: the DAC
As well as having an experienced team of dento-legal advisers (all of whom are dentists themselves, and therefore understand the rigours of day-to-day practice) and dedicated claims handling and in-house legal departments, it's key to the mutual approach driving the organisation that the DDU also engages the expertise and oversight of members themselves.
One example of this is the DDU's dental advisory committee (DAC). DAC members reflect the broad range of skillsets within the profession and the DDU's membership, and currently includes specialists in orthodontics, oral surgery and radiology, GDPs with experience of both NHS and private practice and a dental therapist.
As well as their clinical skills and knowledge, committee members have a profound understanding and insight into the complexities of dental practice, along with expertise in aspects of the profession such as teaching, training, commissioning, dental politics and expert witness work.
The DAC meets regularly to advise on individual cases and general policy matters, as well as receiving and feeding back on reports from members of the DDU's executive and heads of department about the organisation's performance. The work of the DAC contributes to our accountability to members and helps ensure that the commitments made to individual members are fulfilled and the interests of the membership as a whole are protected.
Andrew Chandrapal, who will be known to many of you for his postgraduate teaching work and as a past President of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, has been a DAC member for around five years. Andrew felt that joining the committee was not only an honour but also an eye-opener.
"Being on the DAC has given me a new perspective of the difficulties and troubles that dental members can encounter, which are sometimes saddening to hear," he explains. "Of course, so many in the profession are under extreme pressure at the moment," he observes. "That's the situation where the DDU wants to say, 'We've got your back.'"
The fact that the DAC is made up of DDU members is something Andrew believes is vitally important and demonstrates the ethos of the organisation. "We all feel a sense of responsibility to represent the membership in the most appropriate way," he says. "The DDU is here to support members, and as a DDU and DAC member myself, I have been amazed by the amount of work invested in each individual. It's a great way to remind ourselves that as a DDU member, you are far from just a cog in the wheel."
Discretion and defence
I hope you will be reassured to learn about the work of the DAC, as I am aware that the DDU's status as a discretionary defence organisation can be misunderstood or misrepresented.
The fact is that we carefully consider all requests for help from members and are able to assist with over 99.5% of them because we are not constrained by small print and exclusions and - most importantly - members are there to hold us to account.
I'd also encourage DDU members to look at the member guide, which sets out where we can offer guidance, support and defence as well as examples of situations where we're unlikely to provide support in the wider interests of members.
The DDU's relationship with members is not transactional, but a shared endeavour representing the individual and collective interests of dental professionals.
More for members
The concept of mutual organisations is not new. The MDU was established more than 135 years ago, but the drive to meet the changing needs of our members has ensured we are still relevant. This issue of your DDU journal includes examples of how our mission to support dental professionals has inspired us to adapt in ways you might not expect from a defence organisation.
Benefits such as our new tax, accountancy and business advisory service in partnership with accountancy firm Armstrong Watson LLP which should help practitioners make sense of their annual accounts and interactions with HMRC.
Meanwhile, our partners at employment law specialists, Peninsula, have topical advice on managing staff resignations and absences. DDU members also have access to expert advice on all aspects of employment law, associate contract checking and support with health and wellbeing.
What all these articles have in common is that they highlight that the DDU's relationship with members is not transactional, but a shared endeavour representing the individual and collective interests of dental professionals. Whatever challenges members face in their practice, they are part of an organisation of fellow professionals who share their values and are here to support them.