Martin Foster is the new head of dental services at Dental Protection. We sit down to find out what we can expect in dentolegal changes in Ireland
Q: What are you most looking forward to as head of dental services in Ireland?
Martin: The dental environment in Ireland is very challenging for practitioners and there are a number of issues specific to Ireland that can potentially present problems for any practitioner.
The thing that I am most looking forward to as head of dental services in Ireland is ensuring that all of our members continue to have access to the best advice through Dental Protection.
We are committed to making assistance and support readily accessible whenever it is needed. I am also looking forward to Dental Protection’s involvement with the events planned during the year.
Tell us a little about your career up until this point – how did you get started in dentistry?
After qualifying, I worked in a general practice where I was lucky enough to get experience of working in a small community, where everyone knew who I was and how to find me, as well as in a city practice, which was a very different environment.
Following on from this, I took up a career that involved working with the community dental service and hospital posts, including an orthodontic attachment and teaching commitments.
Somewhere along the line, I became a registered specialist in paediatric dentistry. As I was always interested in law, I sat the legal examinations with the Faculty of Advocates, Scotland. I also obtained qualifications in public health and health service management, which resulted in me taking up a position with the Children’s Dental Service for NHS Lothian. I remained there until I joined Dental Protection as a dentolegal adviser in 2011.
Why did you make the initial move to Dental Protection as dentolegal adviser?
I had been working for Dental Protection on a very occasional basis as a local adviser since finishing my legal studies in 2000. I started working for them once a week as an associate dentolegal adviser; which allowed me to combine the role with my full-time work commitments.
I was also involved in presenting Dental Protection’s Risk Management Workshops before being offered a position as a dentolegal adviser in 2011. The reason for the move was that it allowed me to combine my dentistry experience with my interests in legal and ethical issues that affect dentists.
What are the main challenges facing dentists in terms of legal issues at the moment?
Challenges are coming at dentists from all directions at this time. These include the difficulties that have arisen for Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) contract holders in relation to the interpretation of the regulations by the HSE and the moves to seek repayments in relation to claims.
There are also additional legal responsibilities arising from the introduction of the new EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the full implementation of the Children First legislation and Garda vetting.
The impact on the profession following the Minamata Convention (and the ultimate phasing out of amalgam that will inevitably follow on in due course) has yet to be fully understood.
There are perpetual questions on the legal position around Botox treatment and the interpretation of section 52 of the Dentist Act relating to ‘corporates’.
All of these are, of course, quite separate from the everyday risk of patient complaints and claims, which unfortunately do crop up despite dentists doing their best for patients.
What advice do you have for dentists facing potential legal battles?
It is important to recognise that advice from the appropriate source is absolutely critical. Dental Protection is not the arbiter of clinical opinion, so we would never give a dentist clinical advice on how to do their dentistry.
But we are well placed to advise on legal and ethical issues or queries that can – and do – arise from clinical practice. Importantly, we can also advise on how best to uphold patient safety. It is never too early to get in touch if you have a query.
How can dentists find out more information on legal issues if they are worried?
A dentist who is a Dental Protection member can request assistance on a particular legal or ethical issue via the 24/7 helpline (call +353  1280 8668), email (email@example.com) or send a query on our website.
There is an FAQ section, which many members of the dental team find useful, and members can access a range of other resources such as free online modules, webinars and articles.
We run regular Risk Management Workshops for members and there are many other events we either organise or are involved with, including the inaugural dental conference taking place in the autumn.
We would certainly encourage a dentist with any dentolegal concerns or queries to seek advice at an early stage because in our experience, it is a bit like dealing with dental problems – the sooner assistance is sought, the greater the likelihood of a successful resolution.