We were delighted to see Lord Colwyn addressing the House of Lords last week, raising the issue of the recruitment crisis that NHS dentistry is facing in response to proposed new legislation on public safety and regulation.
He said there is some suspicion about the way the GDC operates, and in fact we have seen this week that the GDC has been employing some dubious tactics to 'catch out' dental professionals who are already under enormous pressure – this type of behaviour is just not helpful.
Lord Colwyn also highlighted the fear and scepticism that many newly-qualified dentists are feeling about embarking on a career in NHS dentistry.
This is a sorry state of affairs.
We spend around £175,000 training and developing each young dentist via the NHS, and so going onto working in NHS dentistry should be a viable and attractive career for them to help make the most of that investment.
But we know that increasingly, it isn't being seen that way:
- The issues with the 2006 NHS dental contract, that makes dentists feel like they are on a treadmill, having no time or incentive to really treat the underlying causes of poor oral health and encourage prevention strategies.
- Government funding for NHS dentistry that has fallen by 29% in England in real terms since 2010.
- The high levels of stress being reported – which increases with the more NHS commitment dentists have.
This all adds up to a worrying recruitment crisis for NHS dentistry that is adversely affecting those who most need treatment.
At the BDA we've been highlighting the issue of long waiting times for treatment, or long journeys for those who can't find an NHS dentist to take them on locally.
Pockets of the country are finding it harder and harder to see a dentist on the NHS and as a result good oral health is suffering.
The Lords debate was the second reading of the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, draft legislation to create a new body to oversee health and safety for health professionals. Lord Colwyn raised points that we echo, about how any new body might interact with the current regulatory frameworks imposed upon dentistry.
If they are to work in tandem, how can we ensure that dentists are not being investigated by different bodies at the same time?
There are also other grey areas on which we will continue to seek clarity. How would this new body work with others to ensure issues are handled by the most appropriate organisation in the first instance? What's the threshold at which this new body might investigate, and when would an incident be considered serious enough to investigate?
In the Queen's Speech reference was made to the body being "professionally-led". But we don't feel this has been clearly enough defined, and it feels that the existing wording suggests it is more about local NHS offices, rather than ensuring that the chief investigation officer and part of their team are members of the health professions, to ensure an understanding of the context healthcare professionals are working in.
It is unfortunate that the Bill will fall victim to the forthcoming General Election, but given that it has already survived the end of one Parliament, we are hopeful that this scrutiny has not been wasted, and that the proposals will return in some form or another once a new Government is in place.
Whatever happens, we will continue to lobby for fair, proportionate and transparent regulation for those working in NHS dentistry, to ensure that both dentists, and their patients, are protected.
Rob Cann, Public Affairs Adviser
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