Wales has been facing an impending workforce crisis for many years now, but I think we can say we are now at the tipping point. We’ve called on Government to acknowledge the scale of the crisis, and to do something about it.
We’ve highlighted the issue of clawback and handback,
resulting in millions of pounds lost to NHS dentistry, whilst access problems for patients continue to rise.
We’ve heard stories of patients travelling up to 90 miles to find someone to treat them
. Even the larger, corporate chains are finding NHS contracts unworkable, and many have closed their doors, leaving patients without a dentist.
Our evidence to the Government’s pay review body (DDRB
) each year has been documenting the growing recruitment and retention problem NHS dentistry in Wales is facing.
Dental workforce issues in Wales have not been surveyed since 2012. That survey showed that doing dental foundation training in Wales, is a significant factor in the decision to continue to work in the country after training. Ensuring that we nurture and train dentists in Wales early in their career is too an important issue for Government to continue to ignore. We have to devise a system which makes Wales an attractive place for dentists to work.
And for those who are currently working in the country, levels of morale and motivation are falling at a depressing rate, and many are saying they are thinking about walking away from NHS dentistry. NHS Digital data
shows that nearly two-thirds of principal dentists and over half of all associate dentists across the UK, say their either ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree with the statement, ‘I often think about leaving general dental practice’.
Younger dentists are saying they don’t want to be on the UDA treadmill, and are turning away from NHS work – as the NHS digital data shows that lower levels of morale are linked to higher NHS commitments.
The outlook is not good for dentists, nor for their patients, in Wales – it cannot go on. It’s likely that post April, finding dentists who are willing to take on NHS contracts, and finding associates to help fulfil those contracts are going to be ever more difficult.
We’ll continue to call for a NHS dental contract
that is fit for purpose and ensures a motivated and fairly remunerated workforce, and to ensure all those who need an NHS dentist in Wales can find one within a reasonable travelling distance. We recognise the programme of contract reform and system change developed by Welsh Government, and now urge them to ensure health boards buy into this vision to allow testing and honest analysis of results.