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“This is how NHS dentistry will die”: BDA issues warning after decline in dental services reported

A survey from the BDA has found that 29% of dental practices reported having had staff vacancies for over a year. (Image: Kauka Jarvi/Shutterstock)

LONDON, UK: A new poll commissioned by the British Dental Association (BDA) has revealed several worrying trends about the state of public dentistry in the UK. Nearly half of the surveyed dentists reported that they had reduced their National Health Service (NHS) commitment since the pandemic’s onset. The findings have led the BDA to declare that “this is how NHS dentistry will die” unless immediate and drastic action is taken by the government.

Though issues such as a lengthy patient treatment backlog have persisted in NHS dentistry for years, their effects have been exacerbated as a consequence of the pandemic. To help combat this, the NHS announced in March that an additional £50.0 million (€60.4 million) in funding would be provided for the creation of up to 350,000 new dental appointments, for which vulnerable groups would be prioritised. However, the BDA’s survey found that 75% of respondents said they were likely to reduce, or further reduce, their NHS commitment over the next year. Of the respondents, 45% stated that they are likely to abandon their commitment and purely deliver private dentistry. According to the trade union, approximately 3,000 UK dentists are believed to have ceased providing NHS dental services since the beginning of the pandemic, and the number of dentists who have reduced their NHS commitment over this time span could be ten times greater.

The BDA’s survey also found that dental practices were more than likely to be facing staffing shortages. Of the respondents, 65% said that their practices had vacancies for dentists. More than half (59%) of those reporting vacancies stated that this was related to remuneration levels, whereas a startling 29% reported having had staff vacancies for over a year. Sadly and perhaps unsurprisingly, 87% of respondents said that they had experienced symptoms of stress, burnout or other mental health problems over the past year.

BDA: “Many dentists cannot see a future in this service”

“Overstretched and underfunded, thousands of dentists have already left the NHS, but many more have begun severing their ties,” commented Dr Shawn Charlwood, chair of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, in a press release.

He continued: “This is how NHS dentistry will die, a lingering decline that unchecked will leave millions of patients with no options. This government has ensured many dentists cannot see a future in this service. Without urgent reform and adequate funding there is little hope we can halt this exodus.”

Minister for Primary Care Maria Caulfield addressed the report by noting that the government was “working closely with the NHS to reform the dental system” and “growing the workforce so that people can get the oral care they need”. In response, Shadow Minister for Health Feryal Clark remarked that the “cost-of-living crisis” being faced by large numbers in the UK meant that “going private is simply not an option for many”.

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