‘They are in for a rude awakening’ – Nigel Jones shares his thoughts on the NHS Dentistry Select Committee Report.
As expected, the report arising from the Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry has reconfirmed the diagnosis of the problems facing NHS dentistry in England. This gives an indication of the scale of the challenge.
Given some of the misdirection I observed during the hearings, it’s reassuring that this group of MPs were not deflected from focusing on the root causes. The report will hopefully add some energy to a much-needed debate about widening oral health inequality in the country.
However, what hasn’t been truly captured is the level of urgency with which action needs to be taken. This latest report laments the lack of progress since the last such inquiry, 15 years ago.
But it’s hard to escape the feeling that the consequences of the failure to reform the current dental contract in England are such that the situation is now almost certainly irretrievable.
‘Shifting dental sands’
We can debate the various solutions and initiatives put forward in the report and the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. Some of the voter-friendly ideas don’t seem to stand up to scrutiny. They have the feel of being created in the back of the taxi on the way to the briefing.
Also, it’s beyond me how any model underpinning a workforce plan can expect to be credible in without supporting data. Particularly on key assumptions such as the number of FTE clinicians and post pandemic productivity. At least that weakness is given appropriate visibility by the select committee report.
To be fair, these are shifting dental sands on which to try and build a workforce plan. Every dentist that leaves the profession needs to be replaced.
Each dentist who cuts their clinical hours needs to be compensated for. Every FTE dentist that decides to provide care privately generates a need for an additional half an NHS dentist.
And that’s just to stand still in terms of resource availability for NHS dentistry. Let alone to attempt to deal with the much-reported backlogs.
‘What proportion of the profession will have already bolted for freedom?’
But the key question is, even if by some miracle all these ideas become reality and start strengthening the security of the stable door, what proportion of the profession will have already bolted for freedom never to return?
The report itself acknowledges this. It says: ‘any contract reform now will almost certainly be too late for those dentists who have already left the NHS or are considering doing so.’
What is often underestimated is the number that are doing that. They may still be cautious of the economic pressure on their patients as well as their practices. However, they are gaining confidence and encouragement from those who have gone before. A domino effect is well and truly in play.
Much like my childhood approach to revision, a lot of time seems to have been wasted on planning not doing. If the powers that be think they can simply put back the date of the exam, like the boyhood me, they are in for a rude awakening.
If you’re considering your options away from the NHS and are looking for a provider who will hold your hand through the process whilst moving at a pace that’s right for you, why not start the conversation with Practice Plan on 01691 684165 or book your one-to-one NHS to private call today: practiceplan.co.uk/nhsvirtual.
For more information visit the Practice Plan website: practiceplan.co.uk/nhs.