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Wales: Strategic workforce plans published

Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) recently launched the All-Wales Strategic Workforce Plan for Primary Care and the Dental Strategic Workforce Plan

The Strategic Workforce Plan for Primary Care focuses on the workforce providing primary care services in designated places including local and cluster areas. It is predicated on the principles of increased workforce supply and new workforce models. The plan includes a new education and training framework. Over a ten-year period, the plan aims to prioritise the wellbeing and development of healthcare practitioners and staff, and to improve retention and service delivery.

The Dental Strategic Workforce Plan recognises there are significant workforce gaps across dentistry, and geographical variations within this too. Moreover, it recognises that the delivery of NHS services is vulnerable due to contractual changes and wider economic pressures. The three Welsh committees were key stakeholders during the consultation, including our seminar last July on workforce matters, resulting in a detailed report to HEIW.

The strategic plan is focused on General Dental Services (GDS) in primary care and covers the roles of dentists, dental nurses, dental hygienists, and dental therapists. The Wales National Workforce Reporting System for dental practices is intended to improve insight into the dental NHS workforce profile.

The dental strategy recognises many of the key challenges faced by the GDS including:

  • Recruitment and retention. Reponses from the 2022 All-Wales Dental Practice Quality Assurance Self-assessment (QAS) analysis indicated that almost a third of NHS practices had vacancies for dentists, while over a quarter of practices had vacancies for dental nurses.
  • Poor mental health. With reference to our study on the mental health of dentists there was recognition of the state of low morale within the dental workforce. Our 2021 survey found that almost half of the respondents indicated that stress was exceeding their ability to cope, and almost a fifth reported suicidal feelings.
  • The move to private practice. Contractual changes combined with wider economic pressures mean that the delivery of NHS services is vulnerable because practices can choose to focus on private practice instead. Many commented on the NHS contract being a key factor in driving changes to the workforce.

Key ambitions by 2030 include having a workforce that is engaged, healthy and motivated. There is also an ambition for the GDS in Wales to be an attractive offer to practices and a viable alternative to private practice.

Another key ambition is a digitally ready workforce. While we would support this, the greater challenge and ambition is for a digitally ready healthcare system. Then practitioners can work efficiently and effectively within it and patients can benefit too.

Unsurprisingly, the strategy supports skills mix and the development of multiprofessional teams as being the norm by 2030. We would argue that there is much of this happening already within private dentistry, and that NHS dentistry needs to be supported in this aspiration within the new GDS contractual framework.

We will continue our important work being the voice of the profession in Wales as the plan unfolds.