The end of each year is traditionally a time of reflection—a tradition that is especially apt for me as late 2018 coincides with my term as Council Chair drawing to an end.
Throughout my term as Chair we have continued work that supports Council’s vision of safe oral health care for New Zealanders. In 2015, Council agreed its strategic priorities for 2015–2020 and began a shift towards a risk-based regulatory model. While we are confident that oral health practitioners seek to provide high levels of care, we are also aware that the professions and the Council are responsible for setting standards, systems and processes that clearly articulate our expectations. These systems and processes also need to assure the public that our practitioners are fit and competent to practise at an appropriate standard.
We have focussed on positioning Council as a right-touch, risk-based regulator to minimise non-compliance and public risk, while supporting practitioners to upgrade their knowledge and skills at the same time. I am extremely proud of Council’s three major achievements towards this end since 2015—introducing the Standards Framework, putting in place a new IT system and commencing the review of our recertification framework.
The Standards Framework introduced in 2015 clearly set out the threshold above which all oral health professionals are expected to operate. Assessing ethical conduct, clinical and cultural competence against the principles and standards in the Framework is the Council’s starting point for assuring the public and helping practitioners remain safe to practise. It is pleasing to see more and more practitioners placing these standards at the centre of their professional practice and Council will continue its efforts to help practitioners retain this focus.
Implementing the new IT system has been another important project to support Council’s risk-based approach and future proof the Dental Council’s ability to operate its core functions. The system will give us an IT system capable of greater data collection and analysis to help Council better identify risk and respond in a proportionate, consistent and targeted way.
The IT project has been large and complex piece of work that has taken up considerable Council resources over the last few years. To date, most of this work has occurred behind the scenes. We reached a milestone when Council staff began using the new system in September 2018 and look forward to opening the practitioner portal so practitioners can begin using online services next year.
In reviewing our recertification system, our focus has been on finding the right balance between risk and assurance. Assuring the public that practitioners remain competent and fit to practise throughout their career is a vital part of our regulatory role.
It is important that evolving the professional development and assurance comprised in a recertification system keeps oral health practitioners engaged in a realistic system. It is also important that oral health practitioners listen to the expectations of the society they serve, in terms of accountability for their ongoing development, and evolve with the evidence about opportunities for professional learning while they practise.
I am confident that the outcome from the recertification review will be an improved, more flexible system that enables practitioners to undertake professional development relevant to their practice, while providing the right level of intervention to help those with failing competence before they fall below the minimum standards. Supporting and extending our practitioners in this way will provide greater assurance to the public that the ongoing professional development of oral health professionals matches with contemporary practice by other health professionals.
The recertification review has been one of the major projects we have undertaken over the last three years and I’d like to thank Council members and Council staff for all the work they have put into this project. I’d also like to thank all the practitioners and other stakeholders who have readily shared their views and actively participated in the consultation process.
I would be remiss not to mention two other major milestone achievements over the last three years—creating patient focussed orthodontic resources and introducing the oral health therapy scope of practice.
With a focus on providing public assurance about the quality of orthodontic treatment and ensuring good quality information for the public, the orthodontic working group developed a series of recommendations. Action on these recommendations is well underway and includes educational material targeted specifically for the younger orthodontic patients. I was particularly pleased with the collaborative approach taken and the inclusion of a lay member and an advocate for children in the working group. These diverse insights greatly contributed to the recommendation and the outcomes. I believe this project can shape the way that Council develops policy, standards and recommendations in the future and look forward to more opportunities for us to work with the public and practitioners in this way.
Introducing the new oral health therapy scope of practice in late 2017 was in itself a major achievement. However, having over 500 oral health therapists registered with the Council in a modern scope of practice is just a beginning. Council is considering how this group of practitioners can make even greater contributions to the oral health of New Zealanders. In 2019 we will again consider the oral health therapy scope of practice and will work with tertiary education providers to ensure the necessary training is available. I will remain keenly interested as this work progresses.
A major challenge Council faced over my term as Chair has been the disruption caused by the Kaikoura earthquake. Two years after the earthquake, Council staff have settled into what started as temporary offices in Willis Street. We continue working with the building owners at 80 The Terrace to satisfy ourselves that it is safe for our staff to return.
While reflecting back on the last three years I must also mention the tremendous amount of core business the staff of the Secretariat work through every day. Inquiries from the public and practitioners, applications for registration and scope of practice changes, designing and implementing competence programmes, ensuring help is provided with health conditions and of course making sure practitioners receive an annual practising certificate are core functions of the Council. I am grateful to each and every one of our staff members who continue to provide a high level of service to Council, practitioners and the public, and in particular to Marie Warner for her ongoing commitment to the work of the Dental Council, and for leading a talented group of staff.
Finally I’d like to thank my fellow Council members for their confidence and their support of my leadership over the last three years. Council’s strength is in the diversity of views, the collective of professional and lay knowledge and opinion, and in the Council members' commitment to ensuring that the public does receive safe oral health care. I thank all of the Council members for the time and commitment that they continue to give to the Dental Council.
And so it remains for me to offer my greetings for the season. I wish you all the joy of Christmas with your family and loved ones, and a holiday period that is restful and safe.