Why is recruitment tougher for NHS practices?

nhs recruitmentSarah Barnard looks at the current recruitment crisis and how it differs between NHS, mixed practices, and fully private practices.

Many people in the dental profession are well aware of the main issue that many practices are facing at the moment: recruitment. 

Most of us have never seen anything like it, and practices are really suffering, as dentists and dental professionals continue to leave dentistry despite the fact that there is a huge demand for their skills.

This article will look into some of key factors that are contributing to the shortage of dentists and other dental professionals.

The stress of working within COVID-compliant conditions

As with most businesses over the last 18 months, the pandemic has had a major impact on dental practices and that is now impacting on recruitment. 

For more than 18 months, associates have been working in tough and challenging conditions and, for some, it has become too much, and consequently they have decided to leave dentistry.

Repatriation of dentists post-Brexit

Another reason for the recruitment problems is that, following Brexit, many overseas dentists returned to their native countries. They haven’t left the profession, but they have left the UK.

Delays in graduation

Coupled with that, the pandemic has caused a delay in a number of young dentists graduating, which has led to a lack of new talent entering the profession at a key time.

Early retirement

For many dentists approaching retirement age, the pandemic has been the catalyst to bringing their retirement plans forward. As a result, not only are those dentists leaving the profession early, they are also selling their practices to younger dentists who, traditionally, would not have gone into practice ownership until later in their careers.

It’s not just affecting dentists

There are similar issues with dental nurses as well. Many are fed up with working under restrictions and are deciding that they can go and earn more money working in other, less demanding jobs, so many are leaving and fewer are entering the profession.

What does all of this mean?

With so many positions in practices becoming vacant, the status quo has been turned on its head and recruitment has now very much become an employees’ market. It is the employees who are holding all the cards and we are now seeing the effects of supply and demand coming into play. 

If a professional wants to move on to another role, it’s highly likely there will be a position available for them in the current climate, and that is making it a real battle for practices who are looking to recruit. 

Private dentistry over the NHS

I have spoken to a few mixed practices lately who have reported how they have really struggled to recruit associates for NHS work. However, other practices that are fully private, while challenged, haven’t faced quite the same battle when it comes to attracting new staff. 

That very much seems to be the trend among younger professionals at the moment, and it links back to my earlier points about staff being able to choose where they want to go; an option that they may not have had beforehand. 

When it comes to associates, previously they would have had to go and work in an NHS practice for a few years before they had enough patients to be able to make the move to private. Now, because the demand is there for private dentistry, they are able to make that move sooner.

Younger dentists are wanting to avoid the stresses, targets and contracts of the NHS and move into private dentistry earlier in their career. This is having a real impact on practices because the supply of dentists going into the NHS is rapidly diminishing.

What you can do

What we are seeing is that some practices are starting to pay over the odds for their staff so they can get in ahead of others and make sure they have no gaps in their team.

Increased pay is one option that is being used by some practices. However, there are other ways that you can make yourself stand out as an employer to ensure you are able to attract staff for the positions you need to fill. 

Creating a good practice culture and atmosphere and rewarding your staff appropriately are just two things that can help you with recruiting and retaining your existing team. 

A lot of the time, it is small gestures that can go a long way, such as buying lunch for the team, going on a night out for team bonding, or buying a small gift for the team members. These things can really make your team feel valued.  


This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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