Eddie Crouch dispels some commons myths and explains why the recently announced 2.8% pay uplift isn’t a ‘gift’ for all dentists.
It’s not something I relish, being grilled by the Times Radio breakfast programme, about why dentists are now getting a pay rise, when so many other people aren’t (listen after 02:09). But it’s important to set the record straight when there are so many misconceptions out there about dentistry.
Myth 1: Dentists are ‘lucky’ to get a pay rise
Dentists are being told that we are ‘lucky’ to get a 2.8% pay uplift at a time when many workers are being asked to take pay cuts or being laid off.
I don’t deny we aren’t grateful for a pay uplift, particularly at the moment. But I did make the point, when speaking to the Times Breakfast programme, that dentists have suffered many years of what has amounted to pay freezes and below inflation rises. These haven’t taken into account rising costs and have seen many feeling a 25% cut in their incomes over the last decade.
Dentistry as I know it is going through the most difficult period I have ever seen, and we are far from out of the woods yet. Private practices have been some of the worst hit by this pandemic and have not received any government support.
Myth 2: Dentistry doesn’t need any more financial support
Right now many dentists are being pushed to breaking point. I’m seeing colleagues’ - friends - businesses at the point of collapse. That’s why, I pointed out to the Times that many dental practices are mixed NHS and private, and that the pay award only relates to the NHS part of our work. Many private dentists are still in need of government support.
And of course, this award goes to contract holders - practice owners, who then have to decide within their business constraints how to pass on that uplift to their staff, associates and DCPs. Many associates and DCPs at the moment are feeling the pinch as practice owners are struggling to keep their businesses afloat and having to make cuts. It feels like a bit of lose-lose situation for everyone, and the only way we are going to survive is to not turn on each other and work together to keep our doors open.
Many members of the public (and even a fair few government ministers and civil service staff) have no idea how NHS dentistry works. It is complex in the way it is commissioned and it is unique in terms of the self-employment status a lot of associate dentists hold. I highlighted to the Times that it is often the private income that subsidies NHS services, and that most of our private colleagues have had absolutely no support from Government, and many are at risk of closure, which will put a terrible pressure on the NHS.
I commend the fact that many colleagues, including private dentists, bought stocks of PPE when they were at their top price during the pandemic, to ensure they could see their patients as soon as possible.
Myth 3: Dentists weren’t even working during the pandemic
Another myth I tried to dispel to the Times was that dentists haven’t been ‘open’ during the COVID-19 pandemic and so haven’t been able to ‘contribute’. That question made my heart sink.
Again, it shows a lack of understanding of where, when and how dentists work, that that we aren’t just talking about high street dental practices when we are talking about dentistry.
I said that most high street dentists were ‘open’, they may not have been able to see patients face to face, but we were triaging, and referring to dentists who were indeed working in urgent dental centres (UDCs). Other dentists were working in hospitals and many had volunteered to be redeployed to COVID- or other essential wards.
I am very proud of those who stepped up to the plate.
What do dentists need?
When asked what we needed in terms of support, I highlighted that we are keen to get back to work - the SOPs need to be kept under constant review, the latest science needs to help us ensure we are working within the confines of safe practice, but for private and NHS work, we need to be able to actually treat our patients in volume to make practices sustainable and to make a dent in the backlog of patients that need to be seen.
Prevention is proven, but we have no hope of making it work under the current circumstances. In other interviews, we have been making the point that we are storing up future oral health problems - including oral cancer - when patients are not being seen regularly.
When I get up outrageously early to be asked tough questions like this by the media, I do it to put the voice of dentists out there and to hopefully, help set the record straight. I do this because I am your elected representative, and I am not alone, many of your BDA reps are out trying to dispel some of these myths that pop up time, and time, again.
BDA Vice Chair