‘Just a short-term sticking plaster’ – the profession reacts to the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan

'Just a short-term sticking plaster' – the profession reacts to the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan

As the government announces plans to increase workforce numbers in the NHS, we hear from figures in dentistry who share their thoughts on the details. 

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, published at the end of June, proposed plans to train thousands more dentists in England over the next five to ten years.

As part of the plan, it stated training places for dental therapists and hygiene professionals will be increased to more than 500 by 2031/32.

Training places for dentists will also increase by 40% to more than 1,100 by this same year.

In support of this, training places for dental therapy and hygiene professionals will be increased by 28% by 2028/29, with an increase of 24% for dentists to 1,000 places over the same period.

Other suggestions include a ‘tie-in period’ to encourage dentists to spend a minimum proportion of their time delivering NHS care in the years following graduation.

Below, we share thoughts and musings from the profession and industry.

Neel Kothari

Neel Kothari is a practice owner based in Cambridgeshire.

‘By now we are well used to outgoing governments announcing measures full of popular rhetoric with very little detail. The headline story of a ‘tie-in’ for NHS dentistry signals the governments intention that they are giving up making NHS dentistry attractive to dentists but rather seeking a workforce through subservience and limiting dentists’ opportunity to develop their skills in the many areas that are not funded within the NHS.

‘The government’s premise is that this is a fair trade off to the taxpayer given the costs of training a dentist. But this is unlikely to be welcomed by tuition-fee-paying dental students leaving university with hefty loans. Perhaps a trade-off would be some reduction in these loans.

‘But right now we have very little detail to judge the merits of compelled national service or why dentistry is being singled out as a profession.

‘The legality of this is also unclear as no other industry is faced with having their educational fees tied into their future working arrangements. What would happen if a dentist decided to stop working altogether? Would the dentist then owe the government compensation?

‘Restrictive terms’

‘It’s also unclear how this would be policed. Broadly speaking, the government contracts with <20% of dentists (providers) who go on to contract with associates via a self-employed arrangement.

‘There is no guarantee of employment or an understanding of what would happen once the practice’s UDA target is completed. It also raises an important question over whether this could be done under the guise of self-employment. It’s my opinion that such restrictive terms would likely result in associates being deemed to be employed.

‘This populist policy may resonate with the millions of voters who have given up trying to find an NHS dentist but at face value this policy seems more like a sign of desperation rather than a well thought out plan.

‘The awkward reality is that it isn’t just dentists who are leaving but rather every member of the workforce providing NHS dentistry.

‘Unless the government relinquishes its steadfast adherence to not increasing the dental budget, it is difficult to see this as anything more than a short-term sticking plaster. It is foreseeable that we will be awaiting the next crisis in NHS dentistry.’

Nigel Jones

Nigel Jones is a spokesperson for the Wesleyan Group and dental membership plan provider, Practice Plan. 

‘The dental profession is under a lot of pressure with recruitment and retention issues being some of the biggest challenges practices are facing.

‘Any action to improve access to NHS dentistry is welcome, but the workforce plan that has been announced is lacking in many ways and we’d like to see a bit more urgency and ambition around the issue.

‘More training places for dentists is directionally the right approach, but it must come alongside real reform of the profession to make it more attractive and inclusive.

‘We have to create a situation where dentists want to work for the NHS and not have to have their arm twisted to do so.

‘The devil will be in the detail of this plan but at the moment it’s hard to see it delivering meaningful change for patients for years to come.’

What are your thoughts on the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan? Email [email protected].

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