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Ask the Dentist: Government underfunding leading to an exodus from NHS

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says there's a labour crisis looming as conditions put dentists off working in the NHS

Many dentists are intending to increase private work, work overseas, retire or move out of dentistry entirely, according to a BDA survey
Lucy Stock

A MAJOR survey indicates that almost 58 per cent of the UK's NHS dentists are planning on turning away from NHS dentistry in the next five years.

Responses to a British Dental Association (BDA) survey of General Dental Practitioners indicated many are intending to increase private work, work overseas, retire or move out of dentistry to another sector.

The results highlight that more than half (53 per cent) of young and newly qualified NHS dentists (aged under 35) intend on leaving the NHS in the same period, raising questions about the sustainability of the service.

Nearly 10 per cent of these young NHS dentists state they intend to leave dentistry entirely, with similar numbers stating they intend to move to work overseas. Forty two per cent plan refocusing on private dentistry. Less than one in six (16 per cent) of these young dentists estimate they will be able to own a practice within the next five years. Practice ownership, once the traditional career path for young NHS dentists, has ceased to be an option for many amid a long-term decline in earnings, and the growth of chain 'corporate' dentistry firms.

Recent data from NHS Digital has shown dentists have experienced a nearly 35 per cent fall in real income over past decade, with the situation showing no signs of recovery. Young dentists have seen their average real income fall by £20,000 as student debt levels have topped £70,000.

The British government has failed to honour commitments made since 2010 to offer a decisive break from the discredited 2006 dental contract which sets quotas on patient numbers. Dentists are penalised if they don't hit targets for activity, but are unable to treat extra patients if they want to do more.

Commenting on the survey Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the BDA's chair of general dental practice said: "It is a tragedy that a decade of underfunding and failure to deliver meaningful reform now risk shutting off the pipeline of NHS dentists.

"Government has made NHS high street practice so unattractive the next generation are now looking to the exit. These young dentists are the backbone of the dental workforce, and losing them at the start of their careers raises existential questions about the future of the service.”

"A suffocating contract system tells dentists from day one that government targets matter more than improving the oral health of their patients. We urgently require a new system that recognises and rewards prevention.”

"Practices across the UK are already reporting major recruitment problems. This is a crisis made in Westminster, and Westminster must respond."

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