Are associates and dental nurses being forgotten in NHS dentistry?

Are associates and dental nurses being forgotten in NHS dentistry?

Dental professionals have warned that dental associates and dental nurses are being forgotten as talks considering dental reform continue.

Last week, the Health and Social Care Committee unveiled its ninth report into dentistry of the 2022-23 period.

It said it is ‘totally unacceptable in the 21st century’ that people are in pain and distress due to the lack of access to an NHS dentist.

It added: ‘It is frustrating to have to return to recommendations made by our predecessor Committee fifteen years ago that still haven’t been implemented. Rarely has an inquiry been more necessary.’

Recommendations from the committee include urgent changes to the dental contract, the commission of a dental workforce survey, and incentives to attract and retain dentists within the NHS.

Last July saw a number of changes made to the dental contract, including the modification of UDA awarding. Three or more fillings or extractions – which were both previously included in Band 2, accruing only three UDAs – were changed to award five or seven UDAs.

‘Great need for transparency’

One dentist, who wished to remain anonymous, shared their thoughts about the current state of NHS dentistry and proposed changes.

‘It might be a step in the right direction with an increase in the UDA values, however this is not filtered through to the associates,’ they said.

‘I am personally still earning the same UDA value as when this contract was negotiated in 2006.

‘If the remuneration was a reflection of time and skill etc – and not bordering on minimum wage – more dentists will not have the need to hugely supplement their income with private work.’

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They added: ‘There is a great need for transparency and I feel associates should be able to have these figures disclosed by their employers to have their contracts reviewed.

‘I’m not sure why the dental board is not able to disclose these figures. Why all the cloak and dagger secrecy?

‘Associates don’t have any corporate body that they can turn to and who would act in their best interest.’

‘It’s the UK population who suffer’

A dental nurse, who also wishes to remain anonymous, said while she welcomes the report, she feels frustrated working within a ‘broken’ NHS system.

‘I do welcome this report, as long as something actually comes from it,’ they said.

‘I have been a dental nurse for nearly 20 years and all of them in practices holding NHS contracts.

‘The way dental nurses are treated is a totally separate issue, but it’s disgusting. We work clinically with NHS patients but get nothing in the way of NHS benefits for doing the work we do.

‘Working in an NHS practice nowadays compared to say 15 years ago just shows how broken the NHS is overall – especially dentistry.

‘In 2023 in England it shouldn’t be a luxury to see a dentist. People taking their own teeth out, after spending weeks – sometimes months – in pain. They phone every dentist possible – sometimes miles away from their home – and are constantly being told “sorry no”.’

Utilising dental nurses

She added: ‘Filling their own teeth, seeing their children in pain with nowhere to turn for help, the 111 service is no help at all and most practice’s are so busy they can’t help with the 111 service by seeing extra people in pain.

‘Thousands of children being admitted to hospital to have multiple teeth out under general anaesthetic – putting extra pressure and expense on the NHS! It would make so much more sense to use us dental nurses who are qualified to place fluoride varnish on children’s teeth to run clinics in a way to help prevent this happening.

‘I did for a time run a clinic like this for high risk children, educating them and their families on looking after their teeth. Over the few years that we did this, there was a significant decrease in the amount of caries these children were getting. But then the funding was pulled and the rest is history!

‘I could go on and on about the state of NHS dentistry – referral waiting lists, the price of PVT treatment – which most people just cannot afford – the contract being so unfair to dentists.

‘Something needs to be done and done soon. Dentists are leaving the NHS in their droves and the UK population are the only ones who will suffer further!’

Want to share your views? Email [email protected].

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