Compulsory NHS tie-in for new dentists under consideration

NHS tie-in period could be imposed for dental graduates

The government has launched a consultation on a ‘tie-in period’ that would require newly-qualified dentists to work in the NHS for several years after graduation.

Launched today (23 May), the eight-week consultation will ask whether dentists should commit to delivering a minimum amount of NHS care or have to repay some of the training costs that are subsidised by the government.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) estimated that training a new dentist costs around £300,000, with £200,000 not repayable by the student. It continued: ‘Of more than 35,000 dentists registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) in England, just over 24,000 delivered some NHS care in England in 2022/23.

‘This means nearly one-third of registered dentists are not contributing to NHS dentistry and may be working solely in private practice.’

The government said it hopes that this proposal would increase access to NHS dentistry while ensuring taxpayers benefit from the ‘investment’ of public money into training dentists.

Health and social care secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘I want to make access to dentistry faster, simpler and fairer for everyone – and part of this is ensuring that dentists are supporting the NHS with their skills and expertise. Taxpayers make a significant investment in training dentists, so it is only right to expect dental graduates to work in the NHS once they’ve completed their training.’

‘Carrots and not just sticks’

Many figures from the dental profession and wider healthcare sphere have welcomed the opportunity to consult on the proposals.

Neil Carmichael, executive chair of the Association of Dental Groups said: ‘We welcome the chance to engage with this consultation and ensure the NHS benefits from the skills of our graduate dentists. We need to see more trained dentists entering the profession and we will work with the government to ensure these proposals reflect the sector’s mixed economy and considers the needs of both NHS and private dentistry.’

Louise Ansari, CEO of Healthwatch England said: ‘We welcome the opportunity for the public to have their say about these long-term proposals to address dental workforce issues, especially as access to NHS appointments continues to be one of the main issues we hear about from people across the country.  

‘We also look forward to seeing separate government proposals on reforming the NHS dental contract in the coming months, as set out in the dental recovery plan. In the meantime, NHS bodies that plan and fund dentistry across England should take concerted and imaginative action to ensure people in greatest need can get dental care quickly.’

However the idea of a tie-in period for dental graduates has also met with backlash.

British Dental Association (BDA) chair Eddie Crouch said: ‘Government plans to shackle graduates to a service facing collapse. It should be asking why experienced colleagues are walking away. 

‘A failed contract is pushing away talent every day it remains in force. Patients need NHS dentistry to be a place dentists would choose to work. That requires real reform, not mere tweaks, carrots and not just sticks.’

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