The COVID pandemic has limited the clinical experience of many dental undergraduates and now their immediate future is uncertain.
As we await vital updates on this issue, we have called on the Scottish Government to act swiftly and provide a safety net to protect students, universities and the future of patient care. Scottish dental students can already expect to graduate with over £34,000 debt. An additional year of study could push it to over £40,000. Scotland's dental students must not be burdened with unmanageable debt.
In an open letter to Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Jeane Freeman, and Deputy First Minister & Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney we warned that action is needed to minimise wide-ranging repercussions on the future of education, training and the sustainability of the NHS workforce.
We have urged the government to support undergraduates who are required to take additional periods of study via an emergency bursary, and to offer appropriate support for dental schools covering tuition fees, teaching grant and clinical placement funding. There must also be ongoing support for the network of NHS trainers who take on trainees following graduation.
Any disruption will have a significant impact on patient access. Graduate dentists are typically given higher needs patients to maximise their clinical experience during their vocational training. Longer term this disruption may also translate into fewer qualified dentists entering the NHS workforce in years to come. We have stressed that any inaction will make the huge backlog facing Scotland's dental services even more difficult to clear.
David McColl, Chair of our Scottish Dental Practice Committee stated: "Should these students be unable to graduate in 2021 it will have a serious impact on both the workforce and patients' ability to access NHS services.
The pipeline of health professionals should not be left at risk. We need to see a plan that guarantees graduates aren't left saddled with unmanageable debt, keeps schools viable, and ensures Scotland has the dentists it needs."