The headlines from the British Dental Association's latest survey read like the script of a disaster movie. They point towards a mass exodus of dentists from the profession, with nearly 30 million appointments missed in the year from March 2020. National media also reports that the waiting list to see an NHS dentist will take up to 3 years in some areas.
The dental sector has survived and thrived because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the dentists. However, the mix of Brexit, COVID-19 lockdowns and continuing operating restrictions paints a picture that many are operators are concerned about.
Dentistry is reliant on dentists to carry out appointments. There has always been a shortage of dentists, with about 20% of the sector originating from Europe. Brexit and fears about free movement of people has led to many EU national dentists to return to their home countries.
NHS contracts and targets have always been a sticking point and has contributed to lowering morale within the sector such that some dentists have considered giving back their NHS contracts and spending more time on private dentistry. Contract reform has been talked about for years but never fully acted upon by the Government.
However the last year with COVID-19 lockdowns, adherence to fallow times (the time between seeing patients to let aerosols settle in the air) and wearing intensive full PPE has made a lot of dentists assess the profession, their work-life balance and what really matters, and consider selling up. Our team assists dentists with buying and selling practices and the last year has been busier than ever, reflecting this trend.
The sector needs clear guidance on the route out of operational restrictions and on how practices are going to reach 60% of pre-COVID activity if patients are worried about ventilation and practice conditions. The government also needs to provide clarity on what, if any, financial support will be available to dentists. Dentistry is at risk of being the poor relation to other healthcare sectors if support is focussed on hospitals and the social care sector.
The pandemic has brought to the fore underlying problems that the dental industry faces and we hope the Government will take note and act quickly to avoid a looming disaster.
The pandemic has brought to the fore underlying problems that the dental industry has faced and we hope the Government will take note and act quickly to avoid a looming disaster.