Care needed in reducing student numbers

A reduction in the number of places to study dentistry at institutions in England must be managed carefully and its impact on both patient care and dental schools monitored, the British Dental Association (BDA) has warned. The warning follows letters to dental schools informing them that their intakes are to be cut by 10% from September 2014 onwards.

At the end of 2013 separate reports by Health Education England and the Centre for Workforce Intelligence warned of a significant potential oversupply of practitioners by 2040 if the current number of dental school places is maintained.

Concerns about a potential saturation of the dental jobs market were exacerbated further by BDA research published earlier this year (January 2014) suggesting that those in vocational and foundation training schemes appear to be experiencing increasing difficulty securing permanent positions. That research drew warnings from the BDA that while decisions on workforce planning must not jeopardise patient care, they must also be responsible towards the young people who invest significantly in training for careers in dentistry and the public purse which contributes to their education.

Dr Judith Husband, Chair of the BDA's Ethics, Education and the Dental Team Committee, said: 'There is an increasing evidence base to suggest that the dental workforce in the UK is reaching an adequate size. And while there is no room for complacency on the part of Government, there remain areas where access to NHS dental care is still recognised as a challenge, the spectre of significant dental unemployment emerging over the next 25 years must be taken seriously. It would be unfair to taxpayers and aspiring dentists alike to continue to fund training for large numbers of dental students who are unlikely to be able to secure posts. Absolutely crucial is that the reduction is implemented and monitored very carefully.

'Also important is that the impact of the measure on our dental schools is monitored and evaluated. Dental education and research is an area of which the UK can be extremely proud and from which it reaps very rich rewards. Dental schools need to be properly supported as they continue in their mission to provide high-calibre dentists to join the UK workforce.'

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