Derek Seel (1930-2021)

BDS LDS VU Manchester 1956; DOrth 1963; FDS 1964; M.Orth 1988; FRCS 1994

The dental profession, and in particular the specialty of orthodontics, owes Derek Seel a debt of gratitude for his vision and energy and leadership  in the field of postgraduate dental education.

Derek was born in Ashton and educated during the war years. He graduated from the University of Manchester Dental School in 1956 and after completing a house surgeon appointment there spent six years in general practice, part of which was in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia.  In 1962 he returned to the United Kingdom to begin specialist  training in orthodontics, firstly as a postgraduate in the Institute of Dental Surgery at the Eastman Dental Hospital and then a as a senior registrar in Bristol.  On completing his training he was appointed as Lecturer in Orthodontics in the University of Bristol Dental School and in 1969 became the first NHS consultant orthodontist in Wales  based at the newly established  Cardiff Dental School with sessions at Swansea.  There he met up with Russell Hopkins OBE a like minded and energetic oral surgeon and they soon set up one of the earliest joint clinics.

Always keen to improve his own clinical skills Derek was one of the first to realise the merit of the Australian Begg technique which offered the first cost effective multibanded fixed appliance system. He soon established a local Begg Study Group where members presented their own treated cases for discussion and forthright criticism followed by a convivial dinner for participants and their wives.

Always an active member of the British Dental Association, in due course Derek became a member of its Central Committee for Hospital Dental Services. Acquiring skills in medico political affairs, he was later elected President of the BDA Hospitals Group. This led to him being elected to represent his colleagues as chairman of the Consultant Orthodontist Group in 1976. At that time there seemed to be no centrally located information about consultant appointments and the Ministry would frequently phone up to find who had been appointed where. It was Derek’s idea that the Group should draw up a Consultant Directory and indeed he did most of the work. This was then sold to colleagues and Health Authorities giving the group its first income stream!

In 1987 he was persuaded to stand for election to the Board of Dental Faculty of the Royal College of Surgeon of England on which he would serve for fourteen years, the latter half as a member of the Council of the College.  During this time he was instrumental in setting up the Faculty’s Audit Working Groups jointly with dental specialist associations and was Chairman of the Joint Committee for Higher Training in Dentistry and of its Specialist Advisory Committee in Orthodontics  and Paediatric Dentistry.

In 1987, now Vice Dean of the Faculty, Derek had become  concerned  that  College’s  Diploma in Orthodontics was now  outdated. Also it was not the only specialist “additional dental qualification” in orthodontics recognised by the General Dental Council as some Universities were now offering MSc courses whose training also did not match contemporary international standards of care.  His solution was to negotiate the introduction of the Intercollegiate Membership in Orthodontics in 1988 and to encourage his respected orthodontic colleagues who held the old D.Orth diploma to submit themselves voluntarily to the new examination.  By this strategy, the new examination became the national standard and is now highly regarded internationally.

Memberships in Community Clinical Dentistry (1989) and the intercollegiate MRD RCS in Restorative Dentistry (1993) soon followed. The existence of these meant that following the publication of the Mouatt Report on dental specialist training, Derek’s successor Ken Ray was able to negotiate the “accord” between the College, the Universities and the GDC which permitted  the successful introduction of Dental Specialist lists in the UK.

In his early years on the Board of Faculty Derek had come to believe that College should represent the interests and standards of postgraduate dentistry as a whole and not just those of hospital dentistry. With the establishment of vocational training for dental practice in the UK and the introduction of the MGDS RCS (1979)  it was felt by many, though by no means all, that General Dental Practice was no longer adequately represented by  the Faculty of Dental Surgery. Derek, now as Dean, led the protracted negotiations which brought about the creation of the Faculty of General Dental Practice UK in the final year of his office in 1992.

As if all this was not enough, in 1987 Derek, whilst continuing  as a maximum part time NHS consultant in Cardiff and Swansea, agreed to become  Postgraduate Dean for SW England based at Bristol University. This he took on with his usual enthusiasm and energy. He had soon set up the Bristol University Open Learning in Dentistry (BUOLD) based on the modular structure adopted by the Open University, which could lead to the award of the Diploma in Postgraduate Dental Studies (DPDS, U.Brist ) which he negotiated with the University’s  Board of Dental Studies. The popular programme is still running successfully 30 years later.

In 1990 Derek became President of the British Society for the Study of Orthodontics in the same year the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 received royal assent which marked the start of the internal market within the NHS and the purchaser/ provider split.  Derek, by now known as an effective campaigner for the provision of dental services was asked by the Secretary of State, William Waldegrave, to join his Clinical Standards Advisory Group to assist in carrying out this transformation in healthcare provision.

When Derek finally retired in 1997 his colleagues were greatly concerned that his outstanding contributions had not been not recognised by the customary civil honour given to former Deans of the Faculty, but for Derek this notable omission had been more than compensated for by his FRCS by election from the College Council.

Prof Chris Stephens