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​40% drop in dentists’ incomes over a decade

Since 2008/9 dentists working in the NHS have experienced cuts in real incomes of up to 40%.

We have crunched the latest numbers from government, and have revealed an historic squeeze without precedent in the UK public sector. This has a material impact on associates and practice owners, and the care they provide to millions of patients.

The estimated earnings for the average associate in England in 2008/09 was £67,800. By 2019/20 new estimates show that figure had fallen to £58,100. When factoring in inflation that figure was the equivalent of just £42,942, a 37% fall.

It is a similar picture for owners and associates in every UK nation that followed the financial crash.

Some have seen gains on previous years, with Wales recording a seemingly significant jump. Where progress has been secured it must be sustained, however it does begin to correct historic losses.

This snapshot predates the pandemic, but these long term trends will inevitably jeopardise the recovery of the service post-COVID.

Capital investment requirements and rising costs render these trends completely unsustainable. Unlike our medical colleagues, high street dentists do not typically receive any capital investment from central government. Profits must be used to fund much-needed improvements in equipment, training and facilities.

We have pressed all UK governments to deliver on capital funding for ventilation, and (with the notable exception of England) we have made headway. Yet practices are also facing mounting costs for clinical waste and essential equipment, without comprehensive support. And with access to services so limited, continued pay restraint is likely to accelerate the drift away from NHS dentistry.

We have made the case for pay uplifts on the right side of inflation. The latest 3% pay award is not going to undo the damage of a decade of austerity.

As GDPC Chair Shawn Charlwood has said in response to these figures “Dentists need to see this service as a place they’d chose to build a career. From discredited contracts to flat lining pay, no one should be penalised for working in the NHS.”

We will continue to fight for a decent, sustainable approach to pay, alongside a break from discredited contractual models in operation across the UK nations.