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​Dentists: Government must turn page on eleventh hour pay cuts

The British Dental Association has said government's approach to pay is driving talent out of the NHS, as below inflation awards leave NHS dentists in England facing a drop in real incomes with no parallel in the UK public sector.

With the Association set to hold talks with Health Secretary Steve Barclay tomorrow morning, the Department of Health and Social Care has finally confirmed a substantially delayed uplift in contract values for general dental practice in England at 4.75% for 2022/23, reflecting a 4.5% rise in pay with an additional uplift applied for practice expenses. With inflation at an historic high, this corresponds to real terms cuts to the funding available to deliver NHS dental services and to pay associate dentists and other staff. Dentists in England have already seen their real incomes collapse by nearly 40% since the financial crash.

In conjunction with the BMA, the BDA has stressed that root and branch reform is now required to give pay review bodies real independence. The government has interfered in the Review Body for Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration processes as a matter of course, imposing public sector pay freezes and pay caps, and by arbitrarily defining 'NHS affordability' each year.

The process has been dogged by interminable delay, with the government routinely providing late evidence. The pay uplift for 2022/23 is set to be implemented 10 months late in February 2023, close to the end of the NHS financial year and backdated to April 2022. The political chaos and the resultant churn at the Department of Health and Social Care have been cited as excuses.

Dentist leaders have stressed that this approach will only push talent out of the NHS. Research undertaken by the BBC underlined the scale of the current access crisis, with nine in ten practices reporting as unable to take on new adult patients on the NHS. The Health and Social Care Committee is now holding a dedicated inquiry, having been warned by the BDA in May that NHS dentistry in England faced a 'slow death', in the face of endemic recruitment and retention problems.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

"England's dentists have just been handed an unprecedented pay cut at the eleventh hour. If Steve Barclay wants to win over NHS colleagues, he must turn the page.

"Current pay review processes offer textbook examples of what not to do.

"Every dedicated health professional requires fair and timely pay uplifts. When so many are reconsidering their future in the NHS, to do otherwise is an act of self-harm."