Meet our featured member for January... William Priestley

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This month we are pleased to introduce our featured member William Priestley, a Dental Advisor at the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland. William spoke with us about how he became involved in clinical informatics, his work around dentistry during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of sharing knowledge.


Hi William! Please could you introduce yourself and let us know what your current role is?

I am currently a Dental Adviser at the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland and have been since November 2014 after working in general practice for seven years.  There is a lot of variety in my current role particularly compared to the drill & fill grind of seeing 20 to 25 patients every day.  My main role is to monitor the quality of care being provided by health service dentists in Northern Ireland though  I have also been involved in a number of projects looking at treatment trends, remuneration models, practice costs, and implementing e-Dentistry initiatives.

You recently joined the Faculty in our most recent cohort in 2020 – it’s great to have you on board as a new Member. Where did you first hear about the Faculty and what led you to join?

Derek Maguire is a colleague of mine at the HSCB and is a member of the Faculty.  Derek has utilised clinical informatics in the running of his group of dental practices as well as in his role overseeing the provision of out-of-hours dental services.  Given the projects I was working on Derek recommended I consider joining the Faculty and he is looking forward to receiving his Faculty mug given my application was approved!

How did your career in clinical informatics begin and what are your main areas of interest?

To be honest I had not heard of clinical informatics until Derek mentioned the Faculty to me and yet I can see how large a role it is within my job.  My first two bigger projects, focusing on service delivery, heavily relied on clinical informatics without me ever realising it.  The first included analysing the treatments being provided by health service dentists over a five year period and identifying the causes for any identified changes and therefore also any subsequent actions that may have been needed.  The second was analysing an alternative remuneration method for health service dental practices with a focus on the treatment being delivered compared to “normal practices” as well as on the quality of the treatment being delivered.  I particularly enjoyed these projects given their scope and potential to impact on service delivery but also because I used to work in one of the pilot practices included in the second project!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve provided professional support to and assessment of dentistry in Northern Ireland during this time. Can you tell us what came of this work, and any important outcomes?

Dentists and their teams are experts in Infection Prevention and Control.  However when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its early days it became apparent that dentists standard processes, even though they were already stringent and of a high quality, were not sufficient for this new threat.  A new approach was needed.  However there was so much advice out there, (some good, some bad, and some fake) it was really difficult to know what to do.  My role, along with a team of fellow dental professionals, was to develop new Operational Guidance for my colleagues in practice and then to assess the impact this new guidance would have on patient care through a practice based survey.  Social distancing, enhanced PPE, enhanced environmental cleaning, and fallow times have all had a major impact on the number of patients a dentist can see in a day and this survey allowed us to estimate the number of patients who could be seen under various lockdown scenarios.  The main outcome of this has been the resumption of safe and effective care to patients with the survey results assisting in wider planning including addressing unmet treatment needs, the supply of PPE, and the development of a Financial Support Scheme for health service dentists.  In the medium to long term the information obtained will help as we transition out of the pandemic and into a new normal.

How do you think we can encourage more dentists to become actively involved in clinical informatics?

I firmly believe that a collaborative approach is needed within the dental profession particularly within primary care and between primary and secondary care colleagues.  As we move out of the pandemic any approach we take must be based on the facts, figures and information we have available.  It is difficult at times but personal opinions and presumptions must be left behind.

The Faculty has members from all four UK nations and aims to represent and bring these together as best we can. Do you have any thoughts on how the Faculty can drive more collaboration in clinical informatics between the Home Nations, particularly Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is a small place.  Everyone really does know everyone! But there is a limit to what we can achieve on our own within dentistry, clinical informatics or indeed the wider health care system.  The pandemic has shown us that it can only be a positive thing to come together and share our knowledge and skills to improve the delivery of care across the four nations and indeed the Republic of Ireland.