Local dental committees (LDCs) are warning that the survival of NHS dentistry is at risk. Their second online annual conference takes place on Saturday 12 June, and dentists will be looking for answers. Key speakers at the conference will be Ed Waller - director for primary care strategy and NHS contracts at NHS England and Improvement - and England's chief dental officer, Sara Hurley.
LDCs want to know how the government and respective NHS bodies are going to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis as a damning report from Healthwatch England reveals that some dental patients within the NHS are being put on a three-year waiting list. At the same time, a BDA survey reveals that nearly half of dentists are likely to change career or seek early retirement in the next 12 months if the current Covid restrictions remain in place.
Motions at the conference will also raise a plethora of workforce issues that are crucial to delivering NHS dentistry. These range from seeking clarity on the admission of new EEA graduates onto the GDC list of registrants to a call for urgent action by the government and commissioning bodies to tackle the additional recruitment challenges faced by rural communities and those far from dental schools.
Conference will hear that dentists are exhausted from having to wear enhanced personal protective equipment and will be wondering if this is still necessary as lockdown restrictions ease, and as an evolving evidence base calls this into question. A motion will say that this adds to the strain of working for a relentless target-driven NHS system that demands back-to-back aerosol generating procedures.
LDCs will iterate support for the development of properly funded, robust and effective programmes to support the delivery of oral health services to the homeless and socially marginalised groups in society. In keeping with this, a motion will be urging policy makers to develop programme frameworks that enable sustainable care for these groups. These are just a few of the topical issues, among the anticipated 32 motions, that will be aired at conference.
In a shift of gear, guest speaker Steve Mulligan, GDP, clinical tutor, will share some of his insights into sustainable dentistry. Steve will draw from his experience as a GDP at the coal face, and his research at Sheffield University into the emerging challenges of single use waste and dental material-based environmental issues.
Shawn Charlwood, Chair of the BDA's General Dental Practice Committee said:
"Just about everyone – dentists, MPs and Healthwatch England - are calling on the government to take action over the dental care crisis which has worsened throughout the pandemic.
"It's unacceptable that patients are being told they have to wait for years before they can be treated. We need a well-trained, highly motivated workforce to deliver this care but the government is driving dentists away from the NHS in their droves.
"After a decade tinkering around the edges of a contract that isn't fit for purpose, we need reform that offers dentists a supportive environment where they actually want to work. And it needs to be in place by April.
"If NHS dentistry is to survive in more than name, the government has to grasp the nettle and invest in dentistry now."
Chair of this year's LDC conference, Stuart Allan, said:
"Once again the LDC annual conference will drive home what we know already - that the long-term sustainability of NHS dentistry is in question. A chief executive from Healthwatch who was recently interviewed on the BBC said the government must heed the dental professionals and patients because they have the answers to fixing a broken system. We'll certainly have some of those at our conference. We hope the government is listening?"