In the first of a new interview series GMFED.org spoke with The BDA Benevolent Fund to ask about the work they do to support Dentists, Dental students, and their families, living in the UK. Here is what General Manager Laura Hannon had to say
What is the Ben Fund?
The BDA Benevolent Fund is a charity supporting dental students, dentists, and their families. Primarily that is financial support. We offer grants i.e. gifts of money, but we also have some well-being resources. It’s worth pointing out that even though we are called the BDA Benevolent Fund, we’re not linked to the BDA in that we’re not funded by them and you don’t need to be a member to receive or request support.
Where do you get your money from?
The majority of it comes from the dental profession. We are lucky that we do have a portfolio. We’ve had investments for a long time that provides some support towards our admin costs. But, the majority of the money comes from dentists. That’s people collecting through local dental committees who are our biggest source of voluntary income,. Also individual fundraising events, BDA branches offer some support by individuals fundraising through those groups such as having an event or golf day, a dinner, or a Christmas ball. We’ve had marathon runners before and people doing other sponsored events. We received some money last week from someone requesting birthday donations through Facebook. We also get help from kind companies and organizations. Dentists Provident has previously given us money and we’ve had grants from the Wesleyan Foundation. It’s a bit of everything.
Who can benefit?
Dental students, Dentists, and their families, living in the UK. For dental students, you will be doing your course at one of the 16 dental schools. For dentists, you have to either be currently or have been previously registered with the General Dental Council, and for dependents that relate to partners, the parents of children of dentists, or widows. However, I should note that we take into account the circumstances of the person that’s applying, which usually is the person that’s applying and their family.
Who decides on who can benefit?
Do you mean in terms of individual applications? We have a charitable remit, which I’ve mentioned. There’s an online application form because primarily we’re there to support people with their finances. They submit the form along with bank statements covering the last three months for all their accounts. It comes to me, so I will acknowledge it and process it. That involves speaking to the individual to check what is that they need and how that meets within our criteria. We have a conversation that helps them to articulate what it is that they feel that would most benefit from. Then I match that up to how we usually help.
The help tends to be for essential living costs such as rent, or mortgage for a few months, food bills, utility bills, sometimes we help with costs towards the annual registration fee or indemnity. This is when people are in a transition phase of returning to work, maybe cause they’ve been out for a while due to issues with the regulator or ill health.
For students, it tends to be usually just supplementing their income for the year – to try to make up the difference in their income against their expenditure. If not all, then the majority of it. Once I’ve of assessed the request, the decisions are passed on and made by the trustees.
We have a board of 11 and 4 are in the grant-making support group. I make the application available for them to see through our online platform. They don’t see the contact information, they which makes it anonymous from their point of view. I need three of the four Trustees to agree for me to have the authority to let the applicant know.
What level of aid do you give and is there a limit?
No, but we must be mindful of what that support’s going to deliver. So we don’t help with debts or tuition fees or private medical bills.
If someone’s got those, we consider that, but we won’t, we won’t contribute towards it. We aim to get people out of the situation that they’re in and enable them to move forward.
It usually is a one-off or support over maybe three – four months.
People can apply at any point, based on their current circumstances. If they felt that maybe they needed support after that, obviously they’re more than welcome to reapply. We don’t just give money to people and hope that solves their problems. We want to work with them and help them get through that scenario. Short-term help is what we do for the majority of people.
You mentioned the BDA earlier and you said they don’t play a specific role. What part does the BDA play?
Technically no part, although obviously, we have a relationship with them. We do have a trustee that’s on our board and their board so we can kind of try to work together. But they don’t have any governance responsibility or financial responsibility.
We do have shared membership, which is historic. I can’t access details of their membership but their members are defacto our members. So far, an annual general meeting and decisions are being made, that decision is made by the members of the BDA who are also the members of the benevolent fund. Although I don’t have the ability to kind of ring up individual members, I can communicate with them through the BDAs email platform. So we kind of we’re able to contact our members that way. So we have a sort of collaborative relationship, but also very separate in lots of ways.
Technically no part, although obviously, we have a relationship with them. We do have a trustee that’s on our board and their board so we can try to work together. But they don’t have any governance responsibility or financial responsibility.
We do have shared membership, which is historic. I can’t access details of their membership but their members are de facto our members. For an Annual General Meeting decisions are made by the members of the BDA who are also the members of the Benevolent Fund. We have a sort of collaborative relationship, but also very separate in lots of ways.
What can you tell me about wellness assistance and who gets it?
Everybody can access it. We have a contract with a partner called Health Assured. They’re a traditional employee assistance program, but rather than it is for our employees, it’s for people that want to access it. It’s openly available and the details are on our website. So, if you felt that you wanted support for your wellbeing, you can just click on the Wellbeing page on our website and you can access that.
Through Health Assured we have a helpline open 24/ 7. They do a triage system, they talk through what it is that the issues that you could receive help with such as legal, bereavement, and medical including access to counselling. So if people felt that they wanted to have, one-to-one counselling sessions, then they can do so through our package.
They don’t need to let me know that’s what they want, or I don’t need to get involved. It’s just openly available. We promote it to people that we’re supporting anyway but they don’t need to have applied to access that.
There’s an app and a well-being portal for preventative care support. They do quite a lot of webinars. I also worked with other members of the dental profession to create a guide called Wellbeing Support for Dental Teams, which is hosted independently on its website.
It is a great resource because it’s not only just available for dental students and dentists, it’s for the whole dental team including Hygienists, Therapists, Nurses and Practice managers,
It’s a downloadable PDF resource providing tips and things to note about looking after your wellbeing, thinking about sleep, thinking about stress and anxiety. It also has a list of helpful organizations including for instance dealing with domestic violence, bereavement, and financial struggles. Everything is key coded depending on the individual’s job role. So some sections are only available for dentists and some for students, and nurses, but it pulls together the different types of help for all the different types of people in the dental profession.
We encourage people to access that and tackle issues earlier on rather than being worried and letting them fester for a long time to avoid getting into a crisis position. If people are aware of some of those things that are building up, we will want them to deal with them earlier on, so that they can look after themselves before it gets to crisis point.
The Wellbeing guide can be downloaded here
You can follow The BDA Benevolent Fund on the following social media.