Training a dental workforce requires an investment in time and cost, at current levels, the UK’s needs are not being met.
Finding good staff is an issue throughout the UK dental profession. We are perhaps fortunate at the higher end of dentistry, senior staff stay with us and support our patients but this is not the national picture.
A shortage of NHS dental support, restricted treatment, or practices leaving the NHS system have been well publicised. For those still operating within the system, finding and retaining staff is problematic.
Public concern on the issue has led to a variety of government announcements aimed at plugging the gap, with not all being welcomed.
Brexit brought a decrease in EU citizens coming to work in the UK but some still come. 17% of dentists currently on the UK register have European qualifications, which can include British dentists who studied in Europe.
Accepting these qualifications was not an issue for many years but this would have come to an end in late 2023 for new applicants. The cut off has now been set aside for five years and may be again in the future.
A common sense move, which means that applicants are still subject to checks on language skills, health and standing but not prevented from working.
There has also been a proposed increase in UK dental training places of 40% by 2031. A caveat attached to this is new dentists being required to work in the NHS system for several years, which has raised concerns.
Fairness Or Rigidity
The government’s stance is that with UK taxpayers meeting a fair amount of the training cost, those benefiting should support state care.
The British Dental Association (BDA) chair stated “…the government should not handcuff the next generation to a sinking ship. An exercise in futility, training more dentists who do not want to work in the NHS.”
Changing the current NHS dentist contract is the BDA’s priority, as is the case for other dental leaders. They feel the plan does not address the current crisis, or encourage people to work within the NHS long term.
This is not an issue which affects our practice but we hope a consensus can be established, for the sake of patients across the UK.
Protecting Oral Health
As we all do, dentists need to earn a living but they generally choose the profession because they care about people. They want to share in the satisfaction good treatment brings and help their patients live healthy lives.
A lack of support for immediately needed dental work understandably sees publicity, yet a dentist should be there for far more.
Focusing on longer term oral health gives patients a more enjoyable life and reduces the need for dental treatment. This is the ethos of our practice and one the NHS need to adopt, for their patients sake and their own.
A regular dental check-up should be more than cursory, with time for thorough oral cancer screening and to consider other medical signs. Symptoms in our mouth can often indicate the onset of a range of conditions.
Caring for our oral & all round health are not divisible. If funding allowed for true preventative care, UK citizens would be happier, the NHS save money over time and dentists enjoy their role within the organisation.