Sara Hurley, the Chief Dental Officer for England, to stand down

Sara Hurley, the Chief Dental Officer for England is standing down after eight years in the job to focus on her new roles as a Non-Executive Director at Surrey Heartlands ICB and as an independent director at the University of Suffolk.

Sara will bring her professional knowledge and understanding of NHS dental care systems to her new roles, maintaining momentum in the transformation of NHS dental services at local level.

Sara was appointed Chief Dental Officer for England in 2015. Previously, Sara served as a clinician and latterly as Chief Dental Officer for the Army.

Since her appointment Sara has championed innovation and delivered on her pledge to “put the mouth back in the body”.

This has included programmes such as Starting Well, a ministerial supported initiative which increased dental access for children in the most deprived communities with in-practice preventative treatments.

From this initial programme and the broadening of access for ‘Dental Check By 1’, children’s oral health is now an established priority for the NHS Core20Plus5 strategy for children and young people.

More recently, Sara led the dental profession through the Covid-19 pandemic, developing guidance for the profession on the safe delivery of care and managing risk.

Whilst the pandemic had a significant impact on dental access, we are now starting to see the signs of recovery. Last year the NHS and Government launched the first reforms to the dental contract in 16 years.

Sara was instrumental in developing and launching these reforms, which built on her work to move the profession towards risk-based recall and prioritisation of care for patients with high needs.

Other key reforms included better use of the skill mix of the dental workforce and allowing dental hygienists and therapists to work to their full scope of practice when delivering NHS care. These were key recommendations arising out the Advancing Dental Care Review that Sara initiated.

Together with the suite of evidence-based clinical standards she has maintained a drive on the quality of care and shared decision making.

As head of the profession, Sara secured access for dentists to the NHS Clinical Entrepreneurs’ Scheme and founded the CDO Clinical Fellows scheme.

With Sara’s support and encouragement, alumni of the scheme took the lead on highlighting issues of equality and diversity across the dental profession. The resulting report ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Dentistry profession wide commitment’ was backed by over 30 organisations and the profession’s regulators.

Sara informed the National Medical Director at the end of last year of her intention to leave the role in 2023 and has recently agreed she will depart at the end of June.

NHS England will shortly be undertaking the process to appoint the next Chief Dental Officer for England and we will announce further details in due course.

Sara Hurley, Chief Dental Officer England, said: “It has been an honour to serve patients as England’s Chief Dental Officer and I am grateful for the support I have received from all my colleagues, across the NHS, from patients, academia, clinicians, industry, and policy makers.

When I started, I said it was time to “put the mouth back in the body” – and together we have achieved a great deal to do just that. Although challenges remain, we are well on our way to changing services for the better.

Delivering for patients always has and always will be my passion and that’s exactly what I will continue to do.”

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: Throughout her eight years as Chief Dental Officer for England, Sara has demonstrated outstanding national leadership, providing huge support and commitment to dentistry and the dental profession. From building the clinical evidence base for reform, embedding dental clinical leadership across the NHS to leading the profession through the pandemic, Sara has taken on every challenge with a relentless determination to deliver for patients.

Dentistry is an important part of the NHS and I look forward to working with Sara’s successor to drive forward further reforms to improve the service for patients”.

Dr. Claire Fuller, Chief Executive of Surrey Heartlands ICS said“Sara has a track record of working to address oral health inequality and, importantly, to integrate oral healthcare with other services – the kind of joined up thinking which Sara supported and underpinned last year’s Fuller Stocktake. ICBs have taken on responsibility for dental and other primary care commissioning, and the further integration of primary care will be key in how we tackle wider health inequalities and improve population health.

We are delighted to have Sara’s national experience in Surrey Heartlands as we seek to drive this agenda forward and make life-long changes for local people”.

Mr. Matthew Garrett, Dean, The Faculty of Dental Surgery at The Royal College of Surgeons of England said: “The Faculty want to extend our sincere congratulations to Sara Hurley. Over her eight years has Chief Dental Officer, she has led the sector through difficult times and has championed oral health to help thousands of people. We wish her the best and hope to continue working closely with her.”

Professor Chris Tredwin, Chair of the Dental Schools Council said: “Sara Hurley has demonstrated exceptional commitment to the dental profession. Dental Schools Council members extend their gratitude to Sara for her outstanding leadership, teamwork, and negotiation skills, notably during the Covid-19 pandemic. Her championing of the dental team in its entirety, and the education of all its members, has been sincerely appreciated”.

Neil Carmichael, Non-Executive Chair of The Association of Dental Groups said: “Putting the Mouth back into the Body” was Sara’s vision as Chief Dental Officer for England and the policy implications must be followed through. She was also a passionate advocate for all dental professionals and utilising the skills of the whole dental team to provide better patient care will be one of her legacies.  I have enjoyed working with Sara who never let the constraints of her office hold her back and remain grateful for her readiness to engage with stakeholders including the ADG”.

Professor Rich Withnall, Chief Executive of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management said: “We would like wish Sara the very best in her new leadership role and thank Sara for her commitment, advocacy and sponsorship of the Chief Dental Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme over the previous six years. 30+ dentists have graduated from the scheme since it was established in 2017, many of whom are now in senior leadership roles across the healthcare system, with the scheme continuing to provide opportunities for dentists to develop as leaders of the future.” 

Stefan Czerniawski, Executive Director Strategy of the General Dental Council said: “Sara has been a key figure in dental leadership over the past eight years and her commitment to improving oral healthcare and patient safety has been evident throughout. We share that commitment with the CDO and her team and look forward to working with her successor.”  

Simon Hearnshaw, Coordinator National Community Water Fluoridation Network and member of the British Fluoridation Society said: “Over Sara’s stewardship we have seen Community Water Fluoridation gradually move centre stage as a public health measure with the potential to have profound impact on improving oral health and reducing oral health inequalities”. 

Heidi Marshall, Chair of National Association of Specialist Dental Accountants and Lawyers said: “Sara has been a champion of the NASDAL DCby1 Practice of the Year award since its inception in 2018. Dental Check by One is such an important cause and her enthusiasm for it has been clear for all to see. We wish her the best in her future career.”

Edmund Proffitt, Chief Executive, British Dental Industry Association said: “The dental industry wishes Sara all the very best for the future. Over the last eight years she has shown a detailed understanding of the industry and its critical role in supporting the provision of dentistry. Her leadership, knowledge and relationships with industry were key in facilitating dental treatment during the pandemic and in the resumption of wider treatment thereafter. Sara’s dedication and vision have been a credit to the post of CDO”.

Miranda Steeples, The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy: “The BSDHT thanks Sara Hurley for her initiative of ‘Dental Check By 1’. Instilling the concept of preventive care being a lifetime habit is key in maintaining oral health for life and embraces the care that can be offered by all members of the oral healthcare team. We thank Sara for her inclusive attitudes towards oral health and those who may deliver those messages and wish her every success for the future”.

Rob Middlefell, National Dental Adviser at The Care Quality Commission said: “It has been a pleasure working with Sara over the last few years as we have navigated one of the most difficult periods for the profession. CQC has enjoyed a positive working relationship with Sara and her Office; together we have enabled our regulatory processes to be relevant, proportionate, and appropriate. We wish Sara all the best for her future”.