Dentists leaving NHS in droves as crisis means people left waiting months for an appointment

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London saw the largest decrease in the number of dentists doing NHS work in the entirety of England in 2020-21 after hundreds of dentists across London went private or left the profession.

A lack of government support during the pandemic, funding gaps and insufficient incentives for newly qualified dentists to work in the NHS have been blamed for the mass exodus.

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There are now fears of a national staffing “crisis” in the sector.

Some 4,179 dentists were recorded as doing NHS work across the capital in 2020 to 2021, down by 369 from 4,548 the previous year. That’s an 8% reduction, proportionally the largest decrease of the NHS’s seven regions in England.

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For Londoners, it can mean weeks or even months sourcing an NHS appointment or being put on a long waiting list.

All the while, there are fears for the nation’s health with many missed regular checkups due to Covid forcing us indoors and perhaps relegating dental care as a priority.

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The biggest drops across the city proportionally were seen in the South East London Clinical Commissioning Group and in North Central London.

Patients spending months looking for a dentist

David Roskin, 26, from Islington, said he has been looking for an NHS dental appointment for five months.

He told MyLondon: “I’ve lost count of the number of emails I’ve sent and contact forms filled out at this point. I’m trying to avoid going private if I can, thankfully I’ve not needed [ an emergency] visit to the dentist, but I know it’s a matter of time until I do need to go private.”

Under the current system, dental practices can secure a contract with the NHS for a specific amount of treatment for the financial year and this varies from practice to practice.

The NHS asks practices to spread out NHS dental care over the year as there is no extra NHS resource for more than the allotted activity.

While The Department for Health and Social Care said it has taken “unprecedented action to support NHS dentists” over the pandemic – the view from the profession is that the growing crisis needs to be addressed.

Dr Ghassan Radi, from Acton Town Dental Practice, said there are multiple factors at play – including insufficient funds to train new Dentists and an increased willingness to go fully private.

He told MyLondon: “I think the difficulty in providing NHS dental services has been ongoing.

“I feel it has been exacerbated by the poor communication, consultation and appreciation of the profession and professionals by the local health authorities over the years.

“Back in the day, it used to be a natural stepping stone for dentists to spend many years providing, predominantly NHS dentistry. Some dentists made an entire career out of it.

“However the norm these days is that the “talented” ones would put a couple of years in and then move on to private.

“It is no surprise that this uncertainty in the last couple of years has led to dentists leaving or moving on to private.”

From January 1, the government instructed dentists to return to 85% of their pre-Covid levels, and practices could face financial penalties if they do not meet it.

British Dental Association chairman Eddie Crouch branded the targets “fanciful” and said it could be the “final nail in the coffin”.

Dentists leaving NHS in droves as crisis means people left waiting months for an appointment
© BDA BDA chairman Eddie Crouch warned a growing number of dentists couldn’t see a future for themselves in a service “plagued by failed contracts and underfunding”.

He warned a growing number of dentists couldn’t see a future for themselves in a service “plagued by failed contracts and underfunding”.

The issue is exacerbated by a lack of newly qualified dentists coming into the NHS.

Dr Radi added: “There are hundreds of perfectly good overseas qualified dentists living in London, willing to work on the NHS, but are unable to.

“This is because there are no funds made available to practices to assist them in their vocational training. Practices training home students have access to around 100k per graduate.

“Also, the necessary exams these overseas students have to take continue to be delayed. I have a friend who has passed part 1 of the exam and has been waiting over 2 years to take their part 2.”

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, who had asked for the figures in a Parliamentary Question, said the shortages would leave people in pain, while the British Dental Association (BDA) said the figures reflected a “broken system”.

Mr Davey said: “The lack of NHS dentists across the country is a real crisis for people.

“As well as being unable to sort out dental pain in the short term, people are storing up problems for the future without regular check-ups.

“The Conservatives talk a good game about the NHS, but leaving so many people without access to a dentist shows just how little they really care about the nation’s health.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have taken unprecedented action to support NHS dentists throughout the pandemic, including by providing full income protection for practices unable to deliver their usual level of activity.

“The targets set are based on what can safely be achieved, as well as data on the dental activity carried out to date – with exemptions in place for practices who have extenuating circumstances.

“Dental practices have been able to deliver face-to-face services since June 2020 and urgent care is back to pre-pandemic levels with over 700 practices providing additional urgent treatment.”

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