Why dental nurses are turning to locum work
With a recruitment crisis hitting dentistry hard, many practices across the UK are struggling to attract dental nurses.
We speak to two dental nurses to help shine a light on the realities of the current shortage; one who consciously works as a locum on a full-time basis and another who left the profession for something new.
They explain why they both made the moves they did and discuss the changes that need to take place to incentivise the role.
Jessica Goldspink – ‘beforehand it was working to live’
Jessica Goldspink is a locum dental nurse based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
‘I did a degree and worked in two different banks but decided that kind of lifestyle wasn’t for me. I wanted to do something more patient-centred,’ she said.
‘I used to work in a practice that I loved working in. It had its downsides as everywhere does but the majority of the time I loved it. But after I returned after having my second child, I point blank just could not afford to work. If I was to work part time, I wouldn’t have enough money. If I worked full time, pretty much my entire wage was going on childcare – and that was just for one child, as my other was at school.
‘I decided to go part time and work locum as that could cover my childcare. I soon realised the conditions were far better so I soon went full time as a locum dental nurse in February 2019.
‘I work longer hours now but it gives me enough disposable income to enjoy my weekends with family. Beforehand it was working to live. I would get my pay, my bills would be paid and that would be it.
She added: ‘I’ve been keen to make the job work for me and have taken on other duties. This includes oral hygiene education, which I do on a self-employed basis. I’m always looking for things within the profession as we are not used to our full potential.
‘I have seen more dental nurses move to locum work. Whenever I go to a practice I always get dental nurses asking about it – the amount of work, the conditions, the pay.’
Hannah Stuchfield – ‘a turning point was seeing that the cleaner was paid more than I was’
Hannah Stuchfield is a former dental nurse based in Derbyshire. She started her dental nursing career in 2004 at a practice in Sheffield and said the day-to-day of the work is something she still misses.
‘I absolutely loved working as a dental nurse. I enjoyed talking to new people every day and helping patients feel at ease in the practice,’ she said.
‘It was never the actual job that made me switch careers in 2012, but rather the pay and the conditions. A real turning point for me was seeing that the cleaner was paid more than I was.
‘The reason this stung was because we are skilled health professionals who undergo years of training and this was not – and is not – reflected in the pay.’
Fear over lack of change
Hannah, who now works in e-commerce, believes the only solution to wages is to establish a national pay standard for dental nurses.
However, even this would pose challenges, she says, due to the differing demands of NHS contracts across the country’s practices. She added that many nurses also feel they are unable to properly use the skills they gain.
‘Many are not utilised,’ she said. ‘Dental nurses work hard to obtain certificates in impression taking or orthodontics but never feel they are able to properly use them.
‘For example, nurses with a fluoride varnish application qualification could host Saturday morning workshops for children. But it is quicker and cheaper for this to be done by a dentist.’
She added: ‘I fear we won’t ever see the situation change for dental nurses.’
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