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Action needed to combat dental inflation

Blog Author Ryan Barnett

Blog Date 03/08/2022

An insight into dental inflation and why we're asking for an uplift of 15% in relation to staff pay costs and 11.15% for other expenses.


Inflation pushing up the cost of living is on everyone's mind as we head into winter. Our robust new evidence and up-to-date data on dental inflation gives fresh insight into the challenging situation practices are facing. That's why we have written to health departments across all four nations asking for an uplift of 15% in relation to staff pay costs and 11.15% in relation to other expenses.


Rising costs

"Rising costs mean that the Governments' pay award of 4.5% is far behind what dentists need to keep up."

Inflation has been running below 3% for most of the period since the 2008 financial crisis. This coincided with the longest period of low wage growth since the Napoleonic war 200 years ago. The Retail Price Index (RPI) tells us that the cost of living has risen over 11% since this time last year and most economists predict this trend to continue into next spring. Rising costs mean that the Governments' pay award of 4.5% is far behind what dentists need to keep up.


Costs have been creeping up worldwide since lockdown began lifting in 2021. A mixture of supply chain problems, pent up demand (delayed holidays, weddings etc) and the rising cost of important commodities such as oil (supercharged by the war in Ukraine) have all lead to an increase in the cost of the things we buy, and the services we rely on. Not least, dentistry. 


Government investment in dental services has stagnated over the last decade. This latest round of rising costs, from energy bills to simply buying a decent set of gloves, is piling on extra pressure just as dentists are trying to meet the demands of the NHS backlog. Mixed and private practices are also affected – dental inflation is hitting everyone in the profession. 

 

We're hearing from some members about the struggle to source materials. Many important items for practices to run on a day-to-day basis are made abroad, in the EU or further afield. Utility bills are also rising sharply. The machinery of modern dentistry, our drills and x-ray machines, are costing more than ever to run. The cost of laboratory time has also increased, adding to the price of dental treatment.


New BDA analysis

Recognising the pressure inflation is putting on members, we included a question on rising costs in our annual survey. This was broken down by 'utilities', 'staff', 'lab costs' and 'other'. We also asked members to provide anecdotal information on costs and other issues. We have combined the results with a range of official data and research to build a detailed picture of dental inflation. 


 

The figures here are the average rises seen across practices from all over the UK, but nearly one-fifth of dentists have seen utility bills rise by more than 50%. Information on the increases is backed up by hundreds of personal statements that allude to concerns about rising prices. The increase in staff costs is also illustrative of the wider problems in NHS recruitment and retention, a much longer-term problem. 


Using this data and information from NHS Digital, an overall figure for the rise in expenses of 11.15% was then reached by averaging a weighted breakdown of the expenses. This follows a similar method used to calculate inflation for both RPI and Consumer Price Inflation. Unlike those measures, this is specific to dentistry. 


ExpenseUtilitiesLab costsFuelGeneralOtherWeighted Total
Weighting4.5449.62.3315.8427.69100
Increase35%*15%*25%*11.7%**011.15%


This is the most detailed analysis of dental costs to date, and our research team will continue with this work. Our data gathering and analysis will include further surveys to understand your concerns this autumn. This research provides the backbone of our argument on behalf of dentists, and I hope you will take the time to take part. 


A call to governments

"NHS dentistry is approaching crisis point across the UK."

NHS dentistry is approaching crisis point across the UK. We have requested that all governments apply an uplift of 15% in relation to staff pay costs and 11.15% in relation to other expenses. This would ensure that the funding provided to practices to deliver NHS services is not cut in real terms. In Northern Ireland we recently wrote to the Minister for Health noting that the DDRB’s recommended 4.5% uplift does not account for expenses. We also highlighted similar issues in Scotland and in Wales, where we are awaiting a response.


Over the last decade associate dentists' incomes have been cut by 47% in real terms, governments have a responsibility to ensure that dentists and dental practices have appropriate funding levels to deliver NHS care on a financially sustainable basis. NHS Dentistry is essential for the nation's health and must be adequately funded.



Ryan Barnett

BDA Policy and Research Analyst