Dentist shortage ‘Time Bomb”

One in eight (13%) NHS dentists are approaching retirement, at a time when NHS dental appointments are scarce…reports Asian Lite News

One in eight NHS dentists are approaching retirement, research by the House of Commons Library commissioned by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. The party warned the figures show the dentist shortage crisis could soon get worse, especially for rural communities.

The data reveals that 3,416 dentists who carry out NHS work in England are over 55 years old and therefore close to retirement. This amounts to 14% of the 23,733 dentists carrying out NHS activity in 2020/21. The figures also show the number of NHS dentists has fallen by almost 4% from 24,684 in 2019/202.

Areas at the greatest risk of an exodus of dentists include rural areas such as North East Lincolnshire in the North, where 29% of dentists are approaching retirement, and in the South West, with 20% of dentists in Cornwall and 17% of those in Devon and Dorset aged 55 or more. The other worst affected areas are Morecambe Bay in Cumbria (23%), Norfolk and Waveney (21%), and East Sussex (19%).

The Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to get a grip of this potential ‘retirement time bomb’ by improving access to NHS dentists. The party is also calling on the Government to ensure there are enough NHS dentists in coming years by reforming the current NHS dental contract and committing to long-term workforce planning.

It comes as the government admitted it does not know how many dental practices applied to access an extra £50m of funding announced earlier this year.

Responding to a parliamentary question tabled by the Liberal Democrats, Conservative Health Minister Maria Caulfield MP admitted that the government does not know how many dental practices applied to access the funds or how many of those applications were successful. The Liberal Democrats said the response showed the government is “asleep at the wheel” on the dentist crisis.

“The shortage of NHS dentists is a scandal and is now set to get worse with this retirement ticking time bomb,” said Daisy Cooper MP, Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care spokesperson. “It is sadly no wonder people are desperately turning to DIY dentistry and being forced to spend hundreds, if not thousands, on private care.

 “Remote rural areas already get a raw deal on health services. Ambulance services are at breaking point in the South West, and now areas like Cornwall and Devon are most at risk from a dentist retirement crisis.

“All ministers have been able to cook up is a botched funding scheme which it seems has made no impact. It shows this Conservative Government is asleep at the wheel on the NHS dentist shortage crisis and is completely failing patients. The Liberal Democrats are demanding action now to recruit more NHS dentists, so people can get the treatment they need.”

Stem the Exodus

British Dental Association said the government is not doing enough the stem the exodus of dentists from the system.

 “What we are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg. Dentistry was in crisis before Covid hit, with NHS commitments on the wane and many younger dentists simply not seeing a future for themselves in the service,” said Shawn Charlwood, BDA General Dental Practice Committee Chair.

“The UK media is focusing on the very real threat to NHS dentistry. MPs have angry constituents knocking at their door – many who are having to wait years for treatment – whilst some have even pulled out their own teeth in desperation,” he told BBC.  “We’ve worked to shine a light on this crisis, and now new analysis by the BBCindicates that NHS dentistry in England and Wales has lost the equivalent of 8% of the workforce. Every vacancy that goes unfilled translates into thousands of patients unable to access care. The service is hanging by a thread. Here’s what you need to know:

“Clearly these new figures don’t tell the whole story. We know counting heads in NHS dentistry is meaningless when those doing an hour a week of NHS work count the same as full timers. Rather than punishing colleagues with impossible targets, we need a service that recognises and rewards commitment.”

“Now colleagues are exhausted, demoralised and looking for the exit. The government’s handling of the pandemic has merely sped up what was already in motion, and we are now facing an exodus. Even dedicated colleagues who have never contemplated working anywhere else are now giving up on NHS dentistry”

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