Queen's University School of Dentistry criticised

School of Dentistry Following last year's critical report, the School of Dentistry was re-inspected in March 2012

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Belfast's School of Dentistry at Queen's University has been severely criticised by the UK body which regulates dental professionals.

The General Dental Council (GDC) has produced a new report into the school following a re-inspection in March.

It has highlighted a lack of leadership and said many senior clinical academic posts at the school remained unfilled.

It follows an earlier report, published in October 2011, which also criticised senior management at the school.

In particular, the latest GDC inspection has highlighted a slow pace of progress in an environment where staff morale is low.

In a worrying development, it said that the school's Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree programme remains in a fragile state.

The report has concluded that the programme is "sufficient" - but added that substantial progress would have to be made if sufficiency is to be maintained.

Concerns

The BBC understands that the delay in this latest publication followed a number of queries by Queen's University about the report's findings.

In October last year, the General Dental Council carried out an inspection after concerns were raised about the level of funding and quality of teaching at the school.

Around the same time as those concerns were raised, 117 dental patients were recalled after the Belfast Health trust discovered their files had not been properly reviewed.

Four of them were cancer patients who died - three died as a result of oral cancer.

While this incident was not mentioned by the council in last year's report, a source told the BBC it was no coincidence the inspectors arrived when they did.

However, Professor Patrick Johnston, dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University, told the BBC on Tuesday: "There is no connection to that at all, that's a completely separate issue.

"This (report) relates to the quality of the programme in terms of training dentists in Northern Ireland."

Prof Johnston also said he believed there was a lack of balance in the report.

"When we got the report, it's fair to say we were both surprised and disappointed by it," he said.

"We felt there was a lack of balance in the report and in particular they didn't recognise the volume of work that has been done in addressing some of the initial issues that had been raised back in 2011."

Interior of School of Dentistry The School of Dentistry has tackled many of the criticisms made in the report

The two day re-inspection took place in March 2012.

Inspectors met those involved with the management and delivery of the Bachelor of Dental Surgery degree programme and also met students.

The original report had called for greater modernisation of the training programmes and more specialist teachers.

'Disappointed'

It also highlighted concerns about the level of clinical experience students were gaining in the areas of restorative dentistry and oral surgery.

This time, according to the authors, they found too much observation and too few orthodontics treatment sessions.

In response, the School of Dentistry said it was "disappointed that the report does not acknowledge or reflect the significant work undertaken by the university over the past 16 months".

It added that "there is a serious and on-going recruitment programme seeking staff for clinical academic leadership roles within the school".

In fact, the school tackles many of the report's criticisms.

It said that the ongoing recruitment campaign and the most recent appointments would help to raise morale and alleviate the considerable pressure currently experienced by teaching staff in the dental education centre.

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