Why Newport? As you may know, I hail originally from Low Fell in Gateshead. To cut a very long story short, I have worked just a stone’s throw from the venue, in Ringland, for the past 13 years. Given the level of support my colleagues in Wales have offered it seemed fitting that I should chair Conference here in the Land of Song.
Newport is a city with a proud industrial past in steelmaking and coal, now finding its way in a very different world. It is perhaps best known in history for being the setting of a violent night in the history of the development of British democracy. In 1839 thousands of Chartists, whose demands included extension of the voting franchise beyond the landed gentry, descended upon Newport after the imprisonment of some of their number in the Westgate Hotel; a bloody battle ensued.
I am so pleased and proud that we were able to keep Conference going in virtual form during the pandemic. It was imperative that the profession did not lose its voice at such a critical time and that those holding the purse strings could be challenged and held to account, whilst LDC representatives could direct GDPC to the issues that mattered most.
I wish I could say that the pandemic had finally illustrated to the governments of the UK the crisis that had already set in prior to 2020. Whilst there have been some rays of hope, the shadows of despair that have held our profession back for so long show no sign of abating. The recruitment crisis is deepening and funding in real terms has reduced over and over again, whilst unrealistic targets and metrics are applied. There is still much talk of ‘incentivising’ dentists to do the right thing, where merely avoiding penalties and clawback by the state are often the reality. The added expectation by some patients that they can buy the ‘perfect smile’, the resulting impact of dental tourism and the aggressive marketing of direct-to-patient dentistry creates the recipe for a perfect storm.
We have some very talented, caring and committed people in our profession and there is always hope so long as that remains true. I am asking those of you who are old hands at Conference to reach out to those attending in person for the first time, whoever they may be. Having new faces with fresh ideas is essential to the evolution of any movement and we have tried to make this one of the key themes of Conference this year.