Dentistry Question Time – ‘widening the skill mix is a necessity’

Dentistry Question TimeFollowing on from the Dentistry Question Time debate, we speak to Clare Robinson about her thoughts on the future of NHS dentistry.

What does the future of NHS dentistry look like after COVID?

The future of NHS dentistry is diverse, imaginative and resourceful.

Is 100% of the NHS contract difficult to deliver? 

Could we hit 100% overnight? That is a tough ask.

But could we work towards full contract delivery, as the level of risk reduces and the effect of vaccine gives patients more confidence? Yes we could definitely work towards delivering 100%.

What is achievable right now and how could you increase delivery to 100%?

I think 100% is achievable once a larger proportion of the population has been vaccinated. This would give patients more confidence visiting for routine appointments.

As the risk level reduces and social distancing measures are reduced, a larger volume of patients could be seen in an efficient manner.

Utilising surgery space for maximum efficiency and considering flexible working hours so that surgery facilities could be accessed over greater hours is essential.

Would you like a reformed NHS contract? What might it look like?

It would be great to see a more patient-focused contract. With the ability to spend longer on prevention rather than concentrating on the numbers.

It would be wonderful to utilise the full team to deliver the contract. Dentistry is a healthcare service that treats patients proactively. It would be great to see dentists deliver a whole-being service rather than just looking at the teeth.

We are incredibly well positioned to deliver a more comprehensive service directed at diet/smoking cessation/motivation to help patients actively get healthier etc.

Offering these services in-house rather than referring them to GP/smoke cessation groups would really help.

How can we utilise therapists more post COVID?

It has been noted for many years the existing pressures in dentistry and the impact this is having on access to care.

With a growing and ageing population, more people are also retaining more teeth for longer. The volume of patients is at a record highs with a limit on the amount of time and resources they have to meet this extra demand. 

In 2018 there were 41,705 GDPs in the UK. Meaning 1:1,600 per population.

However, geographically this is not the case. In some parts of the country, such as Wales, the ratio is 1:1,900 of the population.

Brexit also has a massive impact on dentistry with a 39% reduction in growth of GDPs qualifying in the EEA.

Now with the pandemic, workforces are struggling to sustain staff levels in order to be operational. This therefore puts more pressure on maintaining access to care.

It is thought that up to 70% of clinical tasks currently carried out by GDPs could be carried out by dental therapists (DTs). Therefore utilising DTs more in primary care is significant in helping to sustain access to care. It frees up the time of the dentists. And it allows for more complex treatment in primary care reducing pressure on secondary care too. 

Therefore, developing the workforce and widening the skill mix is a necessity for maintaining access to care and reducing oral health disparities in the UK.

Is NHS dentistry sustainable in the future?

I think it definitely can be if we work together as a profession utilising all of our incredible resources.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how resilient and fast-thinking our profession is.

As part of a UDC I saw first hand how my local area team thought on their feet alongside local clinicians to deliver an uninterrupted emergency care service.

You can watch the full Dentistry Question Time debate here.

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