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Introducing the new UK clinical director for Dentaid

by adminjay

Natalie Bradley talks about her new role as UK clinical director for Dentaid and her plans for improving the service it provides.

How did you get the role of UK clinical director for Dentaid?

I’ve been doing lots of work in this area of dentistry. My passion is helping vulnerable people access dentistry.

I’ve worked with Dentaid as a volunteer for quite a few years now. They also helped to support me during my specialty training where I looked at the evidence behind how we design services for those who experience homelessness.

When I was coming towards the end of my training I was speaking to Andy, the CEO of Dentaid. He said they had so much going on and that the need for their provision was expanding.

I suggested that some clinical leadership could help. So it was kind of a two-way discussion over a number of years. It just so happens that this came along at the right time in terms of their growing workload.

I’ve been on board for just over a month now.

What does the role look like? What does it involve?

It is quite a flexible role as I am their first clinical director. I’m not having to fill anybody else’s shoes!

I deliver clinical support for the wider Dentaid team. This also means helping our volunteers with training, peer review etc.

Our scope has grown a lot from just doing clinics for people who experience homelessness, although this is still a major part of our work. We now have a lot of other patient groups that we are seeing.

For example, looked after children, head and neck cancer patients, fishing communities, refugees and asylum seekers, ex-service personnel and people who are fleeing domestic violence. Not all dentists are used to seeing these different patient groups, so it’s about supporting them too.

It’s also about having a seat at the table where decisions are made. Including those on policy and improving sustainable funding.

There’s a lot of variety but it’s all about championing Dentaid, expanding our activities and providing that clinical support and leadership for the organisation.

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What first drew you to Dentaid and the work it does?

My first day officially as clinical director, I sat in our catch-up meeting and the vibes were completely different from other management meetings I’ve been in. At Dentaid, everybody wants to be there. Every single employee believes in the values of the charity and what we are doing.

They might not be a dentist or dental professional but everyone goes out and sees the impact of the work they are doing. I don’t think this happens so much within an NHS organisation. There are massive NHS trusts but some of the managers may not ever see what is happening clinically. They do not necessarily see the impact of decisions they make.

The team is inspiring. Everyone has their roles, we all chip in and get involved. Everyone does what’s needed. It’s all about problem solving. It’s a really positive environment to be a part of, with a wonderful team to inspire and help grow.

We provide a different model of care that works for a lot of our patient groups. It doesn’t replace NHS dentistry and it doesn’t replace private dentistry. It’s about thinking outside the box and picking up those who fall through the gaps in dental care. Traditionally services might be designed by people who may not have been face-to-face with a patient for many years.

Instead, we take out services to a patient group and immerse ourselves in that environment and cater to the patients’ needs. We can get direct feedback from them and flexibly design a service. We can do that because we are a charity and because we are able to adapt quickly and collaborate with other organisations.

Do you think the value of dentistry needs better recognition within healthcare?

We definitely need to get oral health put on the map within healthcare. What we at Dentaid are providing is essential healthcare. Why is it that we are using charitable sources of funding for something that everybody should have access to?

In my other job, we do a lot of referral-based work and see plenty of inappropriate referrals come through from GPs or other healthcare professionals. An example might ask us to see a patient because they cannot access an NHS dentist but they also don’t fit the criteria for community dental services. This is sometimes the only route that GPs know how to access in dentistry. So if some GPs don’t understand how dentistry works, how do we expect patients to know?

Because some of the work we’ve been doing has been getting some publicity, it’s really triggered a lot of interest and phone calls from other people and organisations. It’s been good to highlight that there is a need but also there’s only so many projects you can do with the mobile dental vans. When it comes to momentum, we are at the highest point that the charity has ever been.

Some people can ask why we are doing UK-based work when Dentaid does work overseas and we have to explain that there is real needs-based access troubles in the UK too. That said, we have started to send volunteers back out to countries now the pandemic is easing. We are very grateful for all of our volunteers, both locally and abroad!

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