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Workplace stress for dentists in Scotland: an undocumented problem?

Blog Author Pat Kilpatrick

Blog Date 15/02/2017

​The mental health of healthcare professionals is becoming a more often talked about issue in the news these days. However, in Scotland, we feel that dentists are often the forgotten profession when it comes to revealing the scale of the problem, and impact of the often stressful and frustrating environments we work in.


Admitting you are feeling stressed is never an easy thing to do. But nearly all of us experience stress or other problems at some point in our lives. Indeed, it's well reported by the charity Mind that 1 in 4 people in the UK are likely to suffer from a mental health problem each year, and they are working hard to combat the stigma around mental health, encouraging people to step up and ask for support if they need it, rather than suffering in silence.


It's recently been reported that GPs are to get £20 million for specialist help to deal with the stress of their roles in a new NHS initiative. This trial scheme will give GPs in 13 areas in England access to counselling or medication, with the aim of rolling it out nationally, if it's successful.


Data from 2016 revealed that almost 30% of UK GPs were planning to quit in the next five years, with levels of stress being cited as the key driver in their decision to go. Six in 10 GPs said they found their work stressful and levels in the UK were far higher than in other western countries.


There is no comparable access for general dental practitioners. GDPs in Scotland have no access to local NHS-funded occupational health services.


The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing announced at the BMA Scottish Local Medical Conference in March 2016, that a further additional £2 million over a two-year period would be invested in occupational health services for doctors, but did not include dentists.


Currently, we simply don't know the extent of the problem of stress and burnout for dentist in Scotland, as there is no official data to draw on.


The Scotland Dental Practice Committee is leading on a working group to examine the impact of stress in the dental workplace and to investigate the support and resources that should be available to help combat the issue.


The BDA is also working on a UK-wide project to look at the causes of stress and burnout and the underlying reasons for low levels of morale and job satisfaction amongst dentists.


We've also called on Scotland's Chief Dental Officer, Margie Taylor CBE, to express our concern about the lack of available data and the lack of support, for dentists who are experiencing stress and burnout.


We asked that she undertakes official government study into the extent and prevalence of stress and 'burn-out' amongst Scottish GDPs and we've highlighted the findings of an earlier Northern Ireland study, which reveals that 25% of GDPs in Northern Ireland are at serious risk of professional burnout, with 15% already reporting experiencing the symptoms and effects of burnout.


We think there is likely to be a comparable problem in Scotland and the issue needs to be investigated and addressed, with real funding coming forward to help combat it.


Pat Kilpatrick

BDA Scotland National Director


Tackling stress in dentistry

We know that dentistry can sometimes be an isolating and stressful environment to work in. We are undertaking a programme of research to find out the causes of stress in dental working environments and to work on providing solutions to coping with stress and burnout.


We are investigating the perceptions and attitudes towards mental health issues in the profession, the risk factors of stress and burnout, the current provision and support for dentists who are experiencing difficulties and what other strategies might be helpful in supporting our members.