Professor Raman Bedi

Doctor of Science

2003 - Orator: Professor Chris Stephens

Mr Chancellor,

Those who have just qualified will justifiably be proud of their achievements. Based on  past performance a third of those graduating  in dentistry today will, in due course,  be receiving  postgraduate dental degrees at this and other Universities. But I wonder if any of them will be returning to this University in 30 years time to receive an honorary degree as is the case today for  Professor Raman Bedi, the Chief Dental Officer for England.

Not only does Raman have a distinguished academic career but he also characterises the progress which  the University of Bristol has made in its endeavours to widen access in higher education.  He enrolled to study dentistry  at Bristol in 1972 having  come from a family with no great background in higher education via a State school which did not have a strong record of sending its students to university.  Indeed he came from a family which had migrated from Northern India to England when he was aged only four. Raman started his school career unable to speak English and competed in a system that was dominated by selection at the age of 11, that is the old 11+ examination.  Iwas astonished to learn from  Professor Bedi recently that Bristol was the only University to offer him the opportunity to study dentistry. That wise decision has today provided the dental  profession with its youngest ever Chief Dental Officer and one who very appropriately  was  recently appointed a Member of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Committee for Widening Participation in Higher Education.

Raman graduated from Bristol in 1976, being awarded the George Fawn undergraduate Prize given for the most outstanding student in Paediatric Dentistry..  He completed his House Officer post in Sheffield before returning to Bristol to complete a theological degree at Trinity College.  After this further degree, he began a series of academic appointments in dentistry,  first  at the Universities of Manchester and Hong Kong and later at Birmingham

In all his appointments he has pursued a general  interest in Paediatric Dentistry  which he acquired at Bristol.  However his particular passion has been the oral health of vulnerable and special care groups.  As a Lecturer in Child Dental Health in the University of Manchester in the early 1980s, he published his first paper on the dental needs of non-English speaking people.  Then at the University of Hong Kong , he undertook the first study of Vietnamese boat people who were living in transit camps.  Indeed, he went further than this and as a “wetgloved” academic, personally provided dental care for all the children who lived in these camps.

Raman returned to England in 1985 to self-fund a Masters degree in Health Promotion. During this time he met his wife Katie and they were married the following year in 1986.  Seeking to establish a home and become more settled proved to be expensive and Raman worked in general practice for the next two years.  Even during this time, he was able to undertake some dental research in Old Trafford, Manchester, and published one of his major papers on the oral health needs of young minority ethnic children living in deprived areas. This landmark paper showed for the first time that poor oral health in pre-school children is associated with a mother’s inability to speak the host language. This original  observation has now been confirmed in studies carried out  in Australia, Holland and North America. 

In 1989, he began his consultant training in Paediatric Dentistry at the University of Edinburgh and on completing this in  1991 was  appointed  Consultant and  Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham.  For the next six years he developed  a strong research and teaching programme in Paediatric Dentistry, always focused on the oral health needs of disadvantaged groups.  In 1993 the University of Bristol awarded him the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree by published works, for his contribution to our knowledge on the oral health needs of special care groups. 

In 1994, the Department of Health  commissioned a national strategy to address oral health inequalities among minority ethnic groups.  This work resulted in the establishment of  a Centre for Transcultural Oral Health at the Eastman Dental Institute in London, and in  1986  Raman was appointed  as its first Director and to the first chair  in Transcultural Dental Health at the University of London. Since then the Centre has become a major force both nationally and internationally.

In 1998, the Centre was designated a WHO Collaborating Centre with a global responsibility  for addressing issues of disability and transcultural oral health.  As director of the WHO Centre he has travelled widely giving  keynote lectures.  His book,  “Root Cause – oral health in developing countries” sold over 7000 copies in the first six months of publication  Truly a  JK Rowling of the dental world.

But what does a Chief Dental Officer do? Briefly he (or she) is the most senior adviser to Her Majesty’s Government on oral and dental health. He has access to Ministers, and reports to the Secretary of State for Health. Ex officio, the Chief Dental Officer is a member of the General Dental Council which regulates Dentistry in the UK and so he serves the profession as well as government at the highest level.

Currently Professor Bedi is leading the Modernising Dentistry agenda. This is the most radical reform of NHS dentistry since the inception of the Health Service in 1948. It  embraces three fundamental concepts.  First, the establishment of national standards which will meet the needs and wishes of patients, secondly the opportunity to address oral health inequalities in a systematic way and thirdly to give people more choice.  It will become the most far reaching agenda for addressing inequalities ever undertaken in the history of dentistry in any industrialised country.  His aspirations as Chief Dental Officer are to bring these policy decisions into practice as a high-quality oral health service accessible by all sections of our society.  A welcome feature of the agenda for the dental profession is that this is to be an evolving process with changes which  are to be piloted and field-tested.

Raman also has other interests and one that occupies a significant part of his time is his Christian commitment.  In 1995 he was elected as a lay member for Birmingham on the General Synod of the Church of England.  During this 5-year tenure, he chaired the Community and Urban Affairs Committee within the Board of Social Responsibility.  As an Executive Member of the Board, he contributed both to the  BSR’s response to the Stephen Lawrence Enquiry and the reform of the Church’s policy on racial and social exclusion.  For several years he helped the Church Urban Fund to decide on their funding for new innovative projects throughout the U.K.   In the year 2000, he was re-elected to the General Synod but this time for the St. Albans Diocese, for which he is serving for another quinquennium.  He also finds time to act as a Trustee for several overseas charities and, in the U.K, the College of Health.  He only recently resigned as a Trustee for the National Council for Social Concern.

Professor Bedi’s lean form bears witness to the fact that, in the past at least, his spare time was dominated by sport. He played football, chess, squash, tennis and cricket for University staff teams at Manchester, Edinburgh and Hong Kong. Nowadays his weekends are more likely to include time  spent on the touchline supporting his three  boys Daniel (13), Jacob (11) and Isaac (7)  competing in their respective football  teams, but he tells me he looks forward to playing regularly with his sons in tennis tournaments.

Mr Chancellor  I present to you  Professor Raman Bedi, the Chief Dental Officer for England as eminently worthy of the degree of  Doctor of Science honoris causa.

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