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Dentists: Tie-ins won’t halt exodus from service

As Ministers launch a consultation, the British Dental Association has stressed that ‘tying-in’ inexperienced younger dentists will never compensate for the ongoing losses of older, experienced colleagues fuelled by the discredited NHS contract

The Government are seeking views on proposals to make dental graduates complete a number of years working in the NHS, including the possibility of making them repay some of the costs of their education if they do not.

The Health and Social Care Committee stressed in its damning inquiry into NHS dentistry that the success of any tie-in hinges on “fundamental contract reform.” The target-based system NHS dentists work to has been dubbed ‘unfit for purpose’ and is fuelling the current workforce crisis.

The BDA slammed the Government’s recent ‘Recovery Plan’ for dentistry as ‘unworthy of the title’, lacking both needed ambition and any new funding. The Government has rejected any meaningful break from this contract.

A recent poll of dentists in England by the professional body showed just 3% thought the plan would result in their practice seeing more NHS patients. 43% believed the plan would lead to their practice seeing fewer NHS patients. Only 1% of respondents believed the plan could meet the Government’s stated objective to provide NHS dental care to ‘all who need it’.

Almost all UK graduates start their careers working in the NHS, meaning any gains in access would be negligible.

The BDA has stressed that given the eye-watering levels of debt facing dental students, optional schemes based on loan forgiveness would likely form a much more effective basis for keeping young dentists in the NHS workforce long term.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said:

“Government plans to shackle graduates to a service facing collapse. It should be asking why experienced colleagues are walking away. 

“A failed contract is pushing away talent every day it remains in force.

“Patients need NHS dentistry to be a place dentists would choose to work. That requires real reform, not mere tweaks, carrots and not just sticks.”