Covid: Warning as more than half of NI dentists ready to quit NHS work

The British Dental Association says support is needed to rebuild the profession as new figures reveal only 40% of the usual patients were seen last year.

And up to two-thirds of dentists expect some sort of withdrawal from the health service in the next 12 months.

A recent survey of members by the (BDA) in NI found that in the next 12 months:

• 59% of practice owners will reduce their health service commitment;

Dentists are still subject to very strict Covid protection measures, which limits their ability to cover their costs.

• 62% of practice associates will reduce their health service commitment;

• 39% of practice associates will change career or seek early retirement;;

• 82% of dentists had low or very low morale.

Richard Graham, chair of the BDA’s NI Dental Practice Committee, said: “With an election possibly just months away, these figures underline why dentistry must be on every party’s agenda.  

“A service long teetering is now broken, and will require nothing less than a full rebuild if it’s ever going to meet demand from the hundreds of thousands who have missed out on needed care.

“Morale across the profession has collapsed. Things were barely sustainable pre-Covid, and now many colleagues simply cannot see a future providing health service dentistry.”

The BDA said that The General Dental Services Statistics for 2020/21 show the volumes of dentistry delivered since April 2020 were less than a third of usual levels, with over three million fewer treatments delivered to adults and children. Just 40% of patients were seen compared to the previous year, with over 440,000 fewer adults and nearly 70,000 fewer children.

The BDA said that throughout the pandemic, dentistry has been hit by the imposition of strict new infection prevention control measures such as enhanced PPE social distancing measures, and extra cleaning and ‘fallow time‘ – mandated gaps between patients – with activity still reduced to around 40% of pre-Covid levels.

While the rest of the NHS is publicly funded, dentistry is the only wing of the NHS set up on a public/private hybrid model, meaning it needs to treat a minimum level of patients in order to remain financially viable.

With an election potentially looming, dentists are calling on all parties to pledge to deliver a new oral health strategy, which is now 14-years-old; to begin on a new General Dental Services contract to safeguard a future for health service dentistry; and to provide needed capacity at the Department of Health to progress the major reforms needed.  

The Department of Health, said it spent £57m topping up dentist’s earnings since April 2020 and in February it established a £1.5m grant scheme for improved ventilation systems. It is engaging with the BDA on the continuation of financial support and support for PPE, and is establishing a stakeholder group with the BDA to address the issues.


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