Supported by 500 GDP signatures, we have urged the Department of Health to urgently prioritise the survival of Health Service dentistry and tackle declining dental incomes.
Many dentists now feel they are being pushed out of being able to continue to offer care under the NHS. The latest figures show that dental earnings in Northern Ireland have fallen once again. Since last year, there’s been an average decrease of 4.2%. In the last decade, we’ve seen a fall of 36% in real terms for associates and 43% for practice owners. Dentists with the highest commitment to Health Service dentistry (75% or more) continue to have the lowest earnings of all, averaging taxable income of just £49,700 in 2019/20.
We have left the Minister in no doubt the significant impact the pandemic and these long-term trends have had on the dental profession. Practitioners are working harder than ever to address their own patient backlogs, while hamstrung by additional IPC constraints, and simultaneously being expected to continue to treat unregistered patients and be on-call to provide emergency cover at weekends and holiday periods.
18 months on from the start of this pandemic, it is clear that many practitioners are feeling burned out and utterly demoralised. The present situation in GDS has become intolerable, and unstainable. We are standing strong with over 500 individual practitioners from across Northern Ireland, to say to the Minister, the Assembly Health Committee and to all MLAs that enough is enough.
It is for the Department of Health to face up to the crisis in dentistry and come forward with meaningful solutions aimed at significantly improving the terms and conditions associated with providing Health Service dentistry. The work of the recently established GDS Rebuilding Stakeholder Group must take on an added sense of urgency.
Practices are already facing difficulty recruiting associates and dental nurses to provide Health Service care, and the growing public access problems that have resulted post-COVID. Health Service dentistry has been on a downward trajectory for over a decade, and reform is needed for it to survive.
This full range of issues must be decisively addressed, otherwise more and more practitioners will conclude there is no future in Health Service dentistry. By harnessing the voices of over 500 GDPs, we hope this latest intervention will focus minds on the reform needed in dentistry, not least a new GDS contract that works for practitioners and the public alike.
Richard Graham, Chair of the BDA’s NI Dental Practice Committee said: “We have reached a point where the majority of NHS committed dental professionals are feeling utterly demoralised, burned-out, and concerned for the future.
“Already, we see the difficulties patients have in being able to access NHS dental services. That situation will only be compounded many times over if dentists continue to see little hope that their decades-old contract model will be replaced with something that works, both for practitioners, and the public alike. A 1990s activity-based contract model that was driven into the ground pre-COVID, has collapsed irreparably. We need an overhaul of GDS, and we need it urgently.
“Over the course of a weekend, almost half of GDPs in Northern Ireland put their name to our letter to the Minister saying 'enough is enough.'
“Without a fundamental shift of trajectory away from a race to the bottom, and meaningful work on a new GDS contract that works better for the public and practitioners alike, Health Service dentistry will not survive.