Northern Ireland

Drop in dentists' incomes 'could jeopardise' NHS care

The incomes of dentists have dropped by 5 per cent in a year
The incomes of dentists have dropped by 5 per cent in a year

A SHARP drop in dentists' pay "could jeopardise" NHS dental services as they attempt to recover from the pandemic, a leading body has warned.

The British Dental Association (BDA) Northern Ireland said dentists in the north have seen their pay fall by a higher percentage than their counterparts in Britain.

New figures released by the Department of Health show that the average pre-tax income for principal dentists in 2019/20 was £99,200 compared to £104,400 in 2018/19 - a decrease of five per cent.

Associate dentists earned around £57,200 in 2019/20 compared to £58,700 in 2018/19 - a drop of 2.4 per cent.

The statistics do not reflect the impact of the pandemic, which had a devastating impact on dental services.

The BDA said long-term figures point to a serious decline.

The body said associate dentists have seen their pay fall in real terms by 36 per cent since 2008/9, and by 43 per cent for practice owners. And it said dentists who rely on NHS patients have been hit hardest.

Figures show dentists who relied on the health service for 75 per cent of their total gross earnings earned around £51,500 in taxable income.

Dentists who mainly took on private patients earned at least £88,600.

The BDA said the drop in pay was due to "wholly inadequate fee uplifts, cuts in the form of removal of health service commitment payments, and private work often effectively cross-subsidising health service activity".

Richard Graham, chair of the BDA’s NI Dental Practice Committee, said dentists needed a new health service contract which gave them fair remuneration for their work.

He said before Covid "health service dentistry had been run into the ground".

"Colleagues are facing the greatest oral health problems in the UK with their hands tied by a decades-old contract model that rewards failure, and chronic underfunding in wholly inadequate fees that no longer make any financial sense," he said.

"We want to avoid a complete collapse of health service dentistry. For that to happen, we need a new contract model that works for both the general public and practitioners alike.

"For our patients’ sake, the downward trajectory needs to be reversed before any more dentists conclude there is no future in the health service they have been so committed to.

"If health service dentistry is going to survive this pandemic, the time to give practitioners confidence it has a future is now."