Nils Bohr was a Danish hero who received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922. The national brewer, Carlsberg, built Bohr a house. The home was next door to the brewery and allegedly had a direct feed from it, he fathered six children thus providing an early inspiration for the Carlsberg “refreshing the parts” adverts.
He once said, “Prediction is very difficult especially when it’s about the future.” Difficult or not I’m going to look at the future for young dentists in (general) Dental Practice.
It would be wrong to stare into the crystal ball without a quick glance over my shoulder. A sage told me in 1988 that in the future in the UK, “There will be NHS clinics and Private Practices”. With hindsight I’m surprised it took so long to get to where we are now.
Post Brexit, one big hitter remaining in-post is the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. There is still no money. The UK doesn’t care what Europe thinks of it, I know, but sometimes you hear the truth. A medic on Irish radio this week said, “The Tories don't like the NHS and Jeremy Hunt is doing his best to dismantle the basic principles of it”. In dentistry many of those basic principles are long gone and the remaining ones are being eroded as we watch.
No more money for education either. University fees and associated living costs are on the rise. Without free movement across borders in the future, university incomes from overseas may fall and UK student fees must rise accordingly. Dentistry is one of the most expensive courses to run, why not make the fees reflect those costs? Dentistry may well become the domain of the privileged, whose parents can afford to subsidise their offspring or arrange the loans for them.
With the recent relaxation of University status perhaps “a large corporate” could create or take over one or more of the Dental Schools to provide cadetships. The armed services have done this for many years. Five undergraduate years in receipt of a bursary and the tuition fees paid. The opportunity for vacation work/internships getting experience of all sorts at flagship practices and the indoctrination / assimilation becomes complete. Post-qualification you commit to, say, 10 years of service or have to repay their investment.
It is possible with this model that corporate dentistry can provide the closest thing to a career structure in general practice, something that the NHS has failed to do and significantly prevented private practice from doing.
The status of NHS associates does not bear close examination. In England and Wales there are fixed targets. Countrywide, associates do not provide their own equipment, are not directly responsible for marketing, wages, materials and so on and by any stretch of the imagination cannot retain the privilege of being self employed for much longer.
A quick flick of the pen by someone senior at HMRC would convert the status of associates to salaried employees. This might be welcomed by many dentists, young and old, especially those who have responsibility for childcare or who have spouses or partners who are in reasonably rewarded jobs.
Time and attitudes have changed and full ownership or traditional partnerships aren’t for everyone. The baby boomers who qualified before compulsory VT/FD and are now the (predominantly) male/pale/stale retiring on the proceeds of the corporate cash which many once derided. They may well be the last of their species.
Many young dentists look at the price of practices, the bureaucracy and the day to day pressure of practice ownership and decide that is not for them. The NHS has evolved into “turn up, get your UDAs, keep your nose clean from the GDC & CQC and go home”. Sounds like a job to me - not a vocation. The millennials are, allegedly, not keen on being tied to one particular practice.
In 2015-16 the admission target, for English dental schools only, was 809, presuming a 10% drop out rate and excluding overseas students there will be another 700 new dentists joining the ranks of the profession year on year. Of these about two-thirds will be female. At present the profession’s mix is 50-50 but it’s a fact that women work less than men over the course of a career, men don’t have babies and predominantly childcare duties fall to mothers not fathers.
This trend started with medicine and has had a profound effect both in general and hospital practice. Interestingly the sex-mix pendulum has swung back in some medical schools.
One reaction with medical GPs is the change in status in response to the difficulty in recruiting partners by expanding the number of salaried doctors. The government sees this as easier to control and privatise. Those GPs in favour of becoming salaried has now reached nearly 30%, nowhere near a majority but significant numbers are beginning to think the unthinkable.
In my last piece for GDPUK I wrote, “Meanwhile many quiet, thoughtful young dentists are taking a long view and working at their skills.” They are realising that to escape the mire of the NHS demands a commitment to growing themselves and that the sacrifices don’t stop with a BDS. In fact the years of serious dedication are just starting.
So the future, NHS clinics run by a handful of large corporates with salaried dentists and therapists, and private practices where an M.Sc is the starting point for consideration.