The Department of Health, who says NHS England is working closely with the profession on the recovery of dental services to allow more patients to be seen, has been warned that it is likely to lose nearly half of dentists. The warning comes British Dental Association (BDA) who say that dentists face penalties if their activity levels don’t rise to 85% of what they were before the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement by the BDA they say that nearly two-thirds of practices currently estimate they are incapable of achieving the required 85% activity level. Although the practices have been working to targets since this time last year, they claim it’s had a devastating impact on morale and financial sustainability in the service.
The BDA would like to see dental surgeries set a target based on what can safely be achieved using data on dental activity achieved to date.
A recent survey by the BDA shows that more than 40% of NHS dentists are now likely to change career or seek early retirement in the year given the current targets. More than half also state they are likely to reduce their NHS commitment, and 1 in 10 estimate their practices will close in the next 12 months.
Shawn Charlwood, chair of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, said: “The country faces a tidal wave of infection. Dentists are understandably nervous about easing restrictions, and patients are already cancelling in droves.”
Continuing she said: “This policy might suit the Treasury, but will put patients, staff, and the very sustainability of NHS dentistry at risk.”
Although the government reduced pandemic restrictions dentists have said they have no intention of relaxing precautions with more than half pointing to the arrival of the Omicron variant and its impact.
Whilst precautions were still in place dentists were required to maintain gaps of up to half an hour between patients to reduce the risk of viral transmission. That radically reduced the numbers of patients on top of which practices have suffered their own infection related staffing issues.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have taken unprecedented action to support NHS dentists throughout the pandemic by providing full income protection for practices unable to deliver their usual level of activity.”
Referring to the BDA statement, they said: “The targets set are based on what can safely be achieved, as well as data on dental activity achieved to date. “An exceptions process will continue to provide a safety net for practices who are unable to deliver at the threshold for income protection, due to extenuating circumstances.”
Dentists however disagree with the NHS likely to lose nearly half due to what they believe are unrealistic targets.
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