The Scottish Government's recent below-inflation pay award of two per cent to general dental practitioners will be of little comfort to a profession grappling with a crisis of morale.
Latest figures show that nearly 70 per cent of principals are thinking of leaving general dental practice – up more than 10 per cent on last year.
Associates don't fare much better, with nearly 60 per cent thinking of calling it quits. But what's really worrying is we now have a clear trend.
We are seeing official evidence of a long-term decline – at all levels – in the morale among the profession in Scotland.
Meanwhile underfunding is pushing dentistry in Scotland to breaking point.
NHS dentists in Scotland have seen their real incomes fall by nearly a third over the last decade. Practice owners have seen a fall of over a quarter when factoring in the rising cost of living, while associates have seen their incomes squeezed by almost a third and are now the worst paid in the UK.
In July, we called on the Scottish Government to provide sufficient funding to make the aspirations in its Oral Health Improvement Plan (OHIP) – including prevention and meeting the needs of older people – a reality. We have since received assurance from the government that the OHIP proposals will be adequately resourced, but we need guarantees that funding will keep pace with demand.
The OHIP states that dental practices will have the opportunity to plan for changes while maintaining their financial sustainability. The Scottish Government also needs to ensure that dentists are fairly paid for their work, including a realistic recognition of their increased expenses.
Continued underfunding would send a signal, both by those already working on the coal face, and among those who could make up its next generation, that dentistry is no longer seen as a valued profession.
Ministers needs to realise that as recruitment and retention problems mount, and morale among dentists continues to fall, it's patients across Scotland who really stand to lose out.
David McColl, Chair
Scottish Dental Practice Committee
BDA Scotland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Scotland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, and pay and contracts. Join us.