The exodus of dentists from the NHS is continuing at a pace, but going unseen in official figures, according to new survey evidence from the British Dental Association.
A survey of General Dental Practitioners in England shows:
Over half of dentists in England (50.3%) report having reduced their NHS commitment since the start of the pandemic – by 27% on average. This movement is not tracked in official workforce data, which counts heads not commitment, and where dentists doing one NHS check-up a year carry the same weight as an NHS full timer.
The proportion of dentists now reporting their intention to reduce – or further reduce – the amount of NHS work they undertake this year stands at 74%.
43% indicate they are likely to go fully private. 42% say they are likely to change career, seek early retirement. Over 1 in 10 (12%) state they are likely to move to practice abroad.
This crisis, fuelled by failed contracts and underfunding, has left England facing the worst access crisis in the nation's history. Analysis undertaken by the BDA of government data indicates unmet need for dentistry in 2022 stood at over 11 million people, or almost one in four of England's adult population. Nearly six million tried and failed to get an appointment in the past two years, and 3.6 million did not try because they thought they could not secure an appointment. Those put off by cost are equivalent to over one million adults, those on waiting lists estimated at around 0.5 million. These figures exceed pre-pandemic norms by every measure. In 2019 unmet need sat at over 4 million people, or nearly one in ten adults.
The Health Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the crisis in the service, and the BDA has stressed both the government and the opposition now have a duty to set an urgent plan of action. While minor tweaks to the discredited NHS contract fuelling this crisis were taken forward in November, there are serious concerns over limited ambitions on rebuilding the service.
The Health Service Journal recently reported that up to £400m of NHS dentistry's already inadequate budget is set to be lost from the frontline, as dentists are penalised for failing to hit contractual targets. This money is not ringfenced and, in the face of this crisis, will likely be redistributed to balance other budgets elsewhere in the NHS.
Rishi Sunak unveiled a 5-point plan to end the access crisis last summer. No element of it has been taken forward.
Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the British Dental Association's General Dental Practice Committee said:
"This is a desperate warning from this profession, as much for the opposition as it is for government.
"NHS dentistry is running out of road. Every day a broken system remains in force we lose dentists, while millions struggle to access care.
"This crisis won't be fixed with soundbites or tweaks at the margins. To turn the corner, we need a plan based on real reform and fair funding."