The end of 2015 saw several members of the Dental Council (‘the Council’) finishing their terms. Dr Michael Bain completed six years on the Council and stepped down as Chair. Leslea Eilenberg, Minnie McGibbon and Dr David Stephens also completed varying lengths of service on the Council.
The strength of Councils and Boards is derived from the knowledge and skills of the individuals, but also the diversity that is encapsulated by the people at the table. The Council was fortunate to have had these practitioners and lay people willing and ready to contribute to the regulatory functions of the oral health professions. I thank them all for their time and commitment to the Council.
Of course these changes have also brought renewal to the table. In December 2015, the Hon Jonathan Coleman, Minister of Health appointed four new members for a period of three years. These appointments included: Dr Jocelyn Logan, dentist Auckland; Gillian Tahi, dental therapist Auckland; Charlotte Neame, dental hygienist Wellington; and Karen Ferns, layperson Auckland. I look forward to their new insights and perspectives. The Council elects its own Chair and Deputy Chair at the commencement of each calendar year. In February 2016, I was elected as Chair and Dr Andrew Gray, dentist Wellington, as Deputy Chair.
A clear focus on priorities has been a legacy of the work undertaken by Council over the past couple of years. The five strategic priorities that the Council is focussing on, in the period to 2020 are: professional and practice standards, engagement with the Council, lifelong practitioner competence, an organisation with the capability and capacity to deliver its functions and priorities, and ensuring strong governance.
In August 2015, the Council introduced our Standards Framework. This can now be readily accessed on the website. The Council is receiving ongoing support for the clarity and utility of these standards. We are advised by both of the tertiary educators for oral health professionals (University of Otago and Auckland University of Technology) that they are being embedded in the education content of their programmes. We have also been advised that their clarity assists groups such as competence review committees, to assess whether practitioners are meeting the expected minimum standards.
Council always anticipated that the Standards Framework required further work to ensure that the practice standards were updated and clarified. The Transmissible Major Viral Infections Practice Standard was confirmed in August 2015. Practitioners are now receiving clearer and more timely advice about their health when affected by a transmissible major viral infection, and the expectations of Council. A consistent and expert advisory panel with medical specialist input forms part of this standard.
Council openly and widely consults on each of the standards as they are developed or reviewed. While consultation is a statutory obligation, and we know that at times practitioners feel they hear from us more than they might wish, we do receive support for this open style of development of change. Feedback through the consultation process is always helpful and it frequently leads to changes.
We have recently confirmed the Infection Prevention and Control Practice Standard. Practitioners are aware that this can, at times, be a confusing and complex area. The new practice standard is written in a format that clearly articulates 24 standards that must be met. The document then provides guidance about how to meet the standards by offering advice about the actions and behaviour that enable practitioners to meet the minimum standards. In the case of the Infection Prevention and Control Practice Standard I particularly acknowledge the New Zealand Dental Association, who have spent a great deal of time and effort in the process of education and information about this topic over the last few years. We are grateful to everyone who submitted and contributed to our work on this topic, which is such a key to public safety in oral health care.
The Council anticipates that the format of a clearly articulated standard with supporting guidance will become the norm for its practice standards. Work is actively underway on the review of the Sedation Practice Standard, and the Council will be consulting on this document later in 2016.
The Council is currently engaged in a second round of consultation on the proposal for a scope of practice in Oral Health Therapy. Significant changes have been made from the first proposals on this topic, particularly in the areas of the provision of restorative dental care for people aged 18 years and over, and in the consultative professional relationship between an oral health therapist and dentist and/or dental specialist. The consultation document is available on the Council website and submissions are due by 27 May 2016.
The Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act has now been in place since 2004. The current Council has the benefit of 12 years’ experience with cases and situations that current and past Councils have been required to consider. As a governance and regulatory organisation that is committed to continuing to learn and develop, we are currently using time at meetings to review our processes and significant decisions, and the learning that can come from reviewing our own work. This is very similar to the responsibility we all have to periodically engage in a degree of reflection and discussion with our peers about our own practice.
The next few years promises to be one of exciting change, not the least for the University of Otago as they develop a new School of Dentistry. The Council wishes the School well with this very challenging project. In keeping with the commitment of the tertiary education providers, to deliver graduates able to practise contemporary oral health care, the Council is responsible for ensuring we have a regulatory system for practising oral health professions that is contemporary and appropriate for New Zealand. I look forward to working with you, with the public, with stakeholders in oral health care and with Council staff and members to deliver that over the next few years.
Naku noa na.
Dr. Robin Whyman