Catherine Rutland discusses the current picture of wellbeing among dental professionals and what recent political announcements might mean for the future of dentistry.
At the start of October we saw the end of the political party conference season. And with it, renewed energy and commitments to improve the health of our nation. While it was a fairly policy-light conference season, it was reassuring to see a spotlight on dentistry.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer announced a commitment to reform the dental contract. He proposed funding additional NHS dental appointments, introducing supervised toothbrushing in schools and shifting the focus to prevention. These are positive steps toward acknowledging the scale of the crisis and the importance of oral health.
However, many of the details of these new plans proposed are yet to be unveiled. It’s difficult to truly comment on the plans until these details are revealed.
Similarly, there remains little detail from the present government on addressing the crisis in dentistry, beyond commitments to increase the dental workforce as part of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
Denplan believes it is crucial that any further changes ensure complex and lengthy treatments, in particular, are rewarded fairly. Also, that NHS dentists are not discouraged from performing them for patients in need.
While we await to hear further insight from both political parties, the current pressure and demand on dentists cannot be ignored.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently released a report supported by Denplan’s parent company, Simplyhealth. It identified how employers from a cross section of sectors are working to support their staff’s health and wellbeing.
Attention to wellbeing
Shockingly the report revealed that despite an uptake in health and wellbeing strategies from employers, the rate of absence is at an all-time high. It also showed that like dentistry, recruitment and retention is a big challenge across sectors. This provides insight into where other employers are working to create a healthy workforce – an important lesson for us all.
As a past practice owner, I fully appreciate that it can be more challenging to set up health and wellbeing initiatives in small businesses. They will have smaller budgets and won’t be able to dedicate a specific team to the initiative.
However, our people are arguably our biggest asset. Considering how we can further look to support their health and wellbeing is so important.
We understand recruitment and retention of staff is vital to supporting the sector. This year, the headline statistic from the report has been the increase in average sick days. It has increased from 5.8 per employee per year in 2019 to 7.8 this year.
As a team where chaperones and support are necessary to be able to look after our patients, this rise is concerning. I know staff absence is something many of you have told me has been a challenge over the last few years.
Mental health remains the most common focus of employers’ wellbeing activity. Alongside this sits work around the values and principles of a company.
For example, how we work from a collective and social responsibility perspective as well as work-life balance, physical health and personal growth. Many of these areas are really important to practices and their teams.
The main challenge that is shown in the report is lack of manager skills and confidence to support wellbeing. This is something that we need to consider. How do leaders make sure we and other relevant staff develop our skills, confidence and resources to be able to really support our teams? Also, how can we ensure that the team trusts us to be able to do so?
The report also highlights the importance of leaders giving priority to wellbeing and I would hope, leading by example.
We must also be mindful of the different support an employee may require through their practice lifecycle and make sure we do not expect a ‘one size fits all’ approach to work!
The health and wellbeing of our teams is central to all we do. Having an understanding of the wider employment landscape gives us an opportunity to reflect on whether we could do anything better for our teams.
If you would like to read the full report, it is available to download here: www.simplyhealth.co.uk.