Dental profession slams Rishi Sunak after he forgets name for dental therapists

The Prime Minister forgot the name for dental therapists last week after suggesting they take up more dental work to relieve NHS dentistry access issues.  

On Friday, the government published the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which proposes changes for recruiting and training staff.

Part of the plan includes increasing training places for dental therapists and hygiene professionals to more than 500 by 2031/32.

During a press conference in which he unveiled the 15-year NHS workforce plan, Sunak was asked whether it addressed the issues people are having with getting an NHS dentist.

He said: ‘One of the examples of reform is in dentistry where we can have people who are not dentists but are allied health professionals, where it’s called – what are they called? Therapists or dental… – one of the roles, where we expect them to do more dental work.’

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Debbie Hemington, president of the British Association of Dental Therapists (BADT), said the comments contribute to the misinformation surrounding the role of the dental therapist.

She said: ‘The Prime Minister actually mentioned dental therapists, but unfortunately defaulted to “therapists” which has sadly led rise to derogatory remarks about “do you talk to teeth?” on various forms of social media.

‘Even more sad are the comments from some members of the dental team who seem to have a limited understanding of the full scope of practice or the use of skill mix.’

Exceptionally disappointing

She continues: ‘The plan states it will increase training places for dental therapists and dental hygienists to more than 500 by 2031/32. We currently graduate approximately 350 per year over 22 schools, so that’s not a huge increase over the next 10 years. It certainly won’t solve the access problem quickly.

‘We look forward to the national Return to Therapy programme to enable re-skilling, but the details, yet again, aren’t clear on how this will happen and for how many. Returning to utilising full scope of practice will remain a pipe dream for many unless the current dental nursing shortage can be addressed; without our vital dental nurses, we can’t work effectively.

‘We have noted that whilst both dental therapists and dental hygienists are mentioned in the plan, yet neither the BADT or the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) were invited to join the conversations. Dentistry is being represented by the British Dental Association, the College of General Dentistry and General Dental Council.

‘This is exceptionally disappointing.

‘There is also no addressing the absence of NHS benefits to any dental therapists or hygienists undertaking NHS work and, without this, it really is a non-starter.

‘While it is a huge positive to have our professions in the national headlines, we need to remain firm that we can not prop up a broken NHS contract that is not fit for purpose. We can’t plug the leaky bucket – we need a new bucket!’

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