Half of dentists plan to quit the NHS within five years

Dental services are facing a crisis as more than half of dentists plan to leave the NHS within five years, a study reveals today.

It found that 58 per cent want to go private, move overseas, retire or quit the profession.

Many of those who want to leave the NHS are newly qualified and under the age of 35.

More than half of NHS dentists want to leave the provider, with most being under the age of 35

The average dentist in England doing mainly NHS work earns about £100,000 – more than a government minister.

But many say they are unhappy about the target-driven culture created by a new contract introduced in 2006 and claim their income has fallen.

There are about 24,000 dentists in England, but their numbers fell last year and some patients have had to pull out their own teeth because NHS practices have refused new names on their books, a study found last month. Recent figures also showed a quarter of children now have tooth decay by the age of five, with many failing to get a yearly dental check-up.

The latest survey was carried out by the British Dental Association, whose chairman of general dental practice Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen said last night: ‘It is a tragedy that a decade of under-funding and failure to deliver meaningful reform now risk shutting off the pipeline of NHS dentists.

‘Government has made NHS high street practice so unattractive that the next generation are now looking to the exit.’

It costs an average of £150,000 to train a dentist, and their rates of pay have been described as ‘exorbitant’ by the Patients Association. Two years ago, a Freedom of Information request revealed the five highest-earning NHS dentists raked in £690,000 on average a year, on top of extra earnings from treating patients privately.

Dental students are only required to complete one year as NHS trainees, but the BDA says that on average they enter the job market with £70,000 of debt.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘No one denies NHS dentists do a fantastic job and that is reflected by the generous salaries they often receive from taxpayers.

‘But public sector workers are about 10 per cent better off than those in the private sector and it’s important that government spending is kept under control.’

The BDA survey of 1,212 dentists was carried out in June and July. Among NHS dentists under 35, 53 per cent said they want to leave the health service.

The Department of Health says it's committed to supporting dentists, after 58 per cent of dentists said they wanted to leave the NHS

The Department of Health says it’s committed to supporting dentists, after 58 per cent of dentists said they wanted to leave the NHS

Nearly 10 per cent said they intend to leave dentistry entirely, with similar numbers planning to work overseas and 42 per cent considering private dentistry.

The BDA said that in England and Wales dentists’ income has fallen by more than a third in the past decade.

Dentists also say they are increasingly struggling with NHS work, being undercut by large private dental chains that take on contracts in bulk.

Under the NHS dental contract brought in by the last Labour government, they say they are put under pressure and fined if they fail to achieve a minimum number of check-ups and procedures such as extractions.

Harman Chahal, chairman of the BDA’s young dentists committee, said he decided to leave NHS practice in April. He added: ‘Young NHS dentists are being asked to make impossible choices.

‘They are offered no reward for going above and beyond, just the constant threat of penalties for not hitting government targets. The contract has reduced patients to a line in a spreadsheet.’

The Department of Health said: ‘We are committed to supporting dentists and making sure the public can access high-quality dental care. We are trialling a reformed contract which, if successful, will be rolled out nationally.’

NHS England said: ‘This narrow snapshot doesn’t reflect the fact that the latest NHS patient survey found 95 per cent of people seeking a dental appointment were able to get one and the overall number of dentists offering NHS care is 3,800 higher than a decade ago, with no significant increase in the number of dentists leaving the profession.’


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