Northern Ireland

Standards at Queen's dentistry school criticised

Queen's University Belfast
Image caption Belfast's School of Dentistry at Queen's University was criticised for 'poor communication'

Belfast's School of Dentistry at Queen's University has come under severe criticism from the UK body which regulates dental professionals.

The General Dental Council (GDC) said a lack of communication between senior managers is damaging the education of dental students.

The head of the School of Dentistry said he was "embarrassed" by the report but that steps were under way to deal with the issues highlighted.

The report called for urgent action.

It also said it was putting the safety of the public at risk and called for greater modernisation of the training programmes for students.

"There is very poor communication between the various parties involved in the delivery of the programme and an overall lack of joined-up thinking," the interim report added.

The training programme will be deemed sufficient pending a re-inspection in early 2012.

The GDC also said there was an urgent need for greater leadership and more specialist teachers.

The inspection, which took place at short notice last May, was arranged after concerns were raised with the council regarding the suitability of training provision at Belfast School of Dentistry.

After a two day visit, they concluded that "single-handed" consultants were working in oral surgery and paediatric dentistry, which they said was unacceptable.

It also said the shortage of strategic leadership for restorative dentistry undermined the programme.

'Moving forward'

Students who attend Queen's University gain their practical experience at the Royal School of Dentistry on the Falls Road site.

However, the GDC found that students were failing to gain that vital experience as timetables did not include enough clinical sessions.

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University Belfast said the team had welcomed the inspectors and had learned greatly from the visit.

"We have already taken on board much of what they have said - now it's time to move forward. We recognise there was a lack of communication between the various bodies and that may have impacted on students," he added.

The various bodies which Professor Johnston refers to include senior management at the School of Dentistry, the Belfast Health Trust, the Health Board and the Department of Health.

Professor Johnston said that the university "accepted the report" but stressed that much work to address its findings had already been undertaken.

'Collateral damage'

According to the professor, some of the problems relate back to the reorganisation of medicine and dentistry departments at the university which began in 2008.

This was also highlighted by inspectors who said there was a general feeling that more focus was being placed on medicine with dental staff feeling they had been left behind.

The report said: "There are concerns that the dental school has become collateral damage, while the main focus has been on raising the profile of the medical school."

Inspectors said it was clear that staff are feeling over-stretched and under pressure.

Last year, the Belfast's Royal School of Dentistry, came under the spotlight when 117 dental patients were recalled after the Belfast trust discovered their files had not been properly reviewed.

Four of them were cancer patients who died - three from oral cancer.

While this incident was not mentioned by inspectors, a source has told the BBC it was no coincidence they arrived when they did.

Professor Johnston said that while there was "no direct link to this report he would accept that people may be concerned about the two".

The school of dentistry has already put in place a series of measures addressing some of the issues. An additional four new posts have been filled with three more to be created within the next six months.

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