Will There Be A Great Exodus of NHS Dentists?

Will There Be A Great Exodus of NHS Dentists?

With the government’s recent bombshell that from 1 January 2022 NHS practices will be obliged to meet 85% of their pre-COVID activity levels & 90% for orthodontic contracts or face financial penalties, nearly two-thirds of practices currently estimate they are incapable of achieving these levels.

This in the face of the Omicron variant with practices already struggling with patient cancellations and staff sickness, these new, centrally imposed targets will be very difficult to meet.

The British Dental Association [BDA] have stated that there are 28,000 General Dental Practitioners and nearly 47,000 registered dental nurses working in high street practice in England. Last year according to official data nearly1000 dentists have left the NHS, a recent BDA survey came to several conclusions:

  • Over 40% of NHS dentists indicate they are now likely to change career or seek early retirement in the year given the current pressures.
  • More than half state they are likely to reduce their NHS commitment.
  • 1 in 10 estimate their practices will close in the next 12 months.

Some may say that dentists are complaining unjustifiably as every part of the health service is being put under pressure to achieve targets and dentists at least have the option of going completely private. 27% of those surveyed said they might go down the fully private route, inevtiably there are obvious repercussions on the availability of NHS dentistry to the general public.

Some patients are already having to wait many months and even years to see an NHS dentist and as a result some people have resorted to pulling out their own teeth and using DIY filling kits. This will have a detrimental impact and cause long term issues which potentially would be more difficult to resolve and might result, in the long run, of costing the NHS more, in terms of time and money for corrective surgery.

The problems have been echoed by Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, who said: "The country faces a tidal wave of infection. Dentists are understandably nervous about easing restrictions. This policy might suit the Treasury, but will put patients, staff, and the very sustainability of NHS dentistry at risk."

In response to the condemnation by the BDA on this new policy, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "We have taken unprecedented action to support NHS dentists throughout the pandemic by providing full income protection for practices unable to deliver their usual level of activity.”

"The targets set are based on what can safely be achieved, as well as data on dental activity achieved to date. An exceptions process will continue to provide a safety net for practices who are unable to deliver at the threshold for income protection, due to extenuating circumstances."

However, many NHS dentists now feel severely let down by this policy especially since they have been working hard to clear the huge backlogs, with a small minority of practices having managed to reach 80% of pre-covid activity levels before Omicron surfaced.

The Government should rethink this policy in the face of the Omicron variant as dentists currently need support, and not unrealistic targets, notwithstanding the devastating impact on their morale leading to a huge number of them thinking of changing careers or retiring this year.

Ultimately it’s the dental health of the general public that will be detrimentally impacted.

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