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NHS dentistry: I don’t want to leave, but I feel there is no choice

​Overstretched and underfunded many NHS dentists are already looking to the exit. MPs need to know that real reform won't wait.

Anonymous dentist

NHS dentistry is at a real crunch point. Despite working as flat out as we can under the constraints, patients in our area are finding major problems trying to access care. Covid has only added to the issues the service was facing prior to the pandemic, and now we face a real crisis.

The BDA has worked to get a major debate on access to NHS dentistry in Parliament on 10 February – please write to your MP now. The more people who speak up, the stronger our voice will be.

I've never contacted my MP before regarding any subject, but ahead of the upcoming debate felt I had to get in touch and tell them we are desperate for a solution. Here's what I said:

Enough is enough

I've been on the same NHS pay since I graduated, 12 years ago (in fact it's even slightly less now since I moved jobs). With inflation at the level it's at, I am experiencing a significant real-terms pay cut year on year.

Morale amongst my NHS colleagues feels like it is at a particularly low point, and the majority of people I know are planning to either reduce their NHS commitment, or to completely move into private work. Enough is enough.

Career progression has become a joke, as those who undertake further post-graduate training (to their own not insignificant cost), cannot be rewarded under the current NHS contract.

Since graduating, I've undertaken two diplomas and a masters' degree – but the NHS contract pays me nothing further for any of these skills, so the only way to practice and make use of them is to move more into private dentistry.

Forced to go private

I've taken the difficult decision to reduce my NHS contract by about a third and will do further next year if things don't change with the contract. I've never wanted to leave the NHS and feel passionately about the NHS as a provider of care for everyone, so it really upsets me to do this.

But with things as they are I feel I don't have much choice – I have a family to provide for.

We've been promised contract reform since I first graduated in 2010 – it is long overdue. The contract as it is does not reward prevention, or practitioners who undertake further study to try to provide a higher level of care for their patients.

Crumpling under the weight

I know of colleagues who do almost double the amount of UDAs that I do, and therefore receive significantly higher NHS pay - but the only way they do this is by seeing patients on a treadmill, adding an immense amount of pressure and stress to their working day. Colleagues have told me of frustration, and some have even confided that they are completely burnt out, crumpling under the weight.

The current system rewards dentists for putting patients on the conveyor belt, rather than striving for any kind of prevention, or quality of care.

Where is the new dental contract?

We need a new contract that rewards dentists for carrying out high quality work and preventative care that patients deserve, or more NHS dentists will have to turn their back. The time for endless words and empty promises is over. Please give NHS dentistry the funding it needs.

The recent £50 million offered by the government feels like it is nowhere near enough to plug the gaps after decades of underfunding in the system, it is a sticking plaster, a short-term carrot in world of unforgiving sticks.

I fear without any significant changes to the current NHS dental contract, many of my NHS colleagues will be leaving for private roles and the system will edge closer to the point of not functioning for the majority of dental patients. Those who cannot afford it will be left out in the cold.

A debate on NHS dentistry is taking place on 10 February 2022. Don't forget to have your say. Write to your MP.