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NHSE officer steps down to focus on board roles

Published on: 26 May 2023

England’s chief dental officer is leaving her national post after eight years in part to focus on several non-executive board roles, NHS England has announced. 

Sara Hurley, who became chief dental officer in 2015, will leave her post at the end of June to focus on her roles as a non-executive director at Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care Board and as independent director at the University of Suffolk. She was previously a clinician and chief dental officer for the army. 

As England’s chief dental officer, Dr Hurley oversaw the Starting Well programme, aimed at improving dental attendance and education for young children. NHSE also said she had been “instrumental” in reforming the dental contract last year.

However, the British Dental Association raised concerns in March about potential conflicts of interest  with her position as chair of the University of Suffolk Dental Community Interest Company – a social enterprise which aims to provide NHS dental care, as well as training and education – after the company was paid £1.5m by Health Education England.

NHSE said Dr Hurley shared her intention to leave her national role at the end of last year, but they had more recently agreed exactly when. NHSE added it will start searching for her replacement “shortly”. 

NHS national medical director Sir Stephen Powis 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.”

Dr Hurley 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.” 

It comes as people in many areas are struggling to access NHS dentistry. HSJ  revealed in February that the national dentistry budget in 2022-23 was underspent by a record £400m because of a shortage of dentists willing to take on NHS work.