NHS dentistry "hanging by a thread" - as Sheffield dentist numbers drop by seven per cent

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Unions have warned NHS dentistry is ‘hanging by a thread’ with some patients facing two-year waits for routine check ups – and in Sheffield the number of dentists has fallen by seven per cent in a year.

Data from England and Wales shows more than 2,500 dental posts were lost across both countries – made up of more than 1,000 dentists, some of whom worked in multiple areas.

And one dental practice in Barnsley has had two NHS dental posts vacant for two years – without attracting a single applicant.

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The British Dental Association – BDA – said unhappiness with the NHS dental contract was a key factor.

Shawn CharlwoodShawn Charlwood
Shawn Charlwood

NHS England said patients who needed care the most should be prioritised, and said it had set up 600 urgent dental centres across England.

The number of NHS dentists working in two English clinical commissioning group areas – CCGs – fell by more than a quarter in the year ending March 31, 2021, with the combined equivalent of 2,435 dentists leaving the health service.

In Sheffield there were 384 NHS dentists in 2020 which fell to 356 in 2021, that’s seven per cent in total.

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Meanwhile, 28 other English CCGs have lost at least ten per cent of their NHS dentists.

The BDA’s Shawn Charlwood warned significant numbers of dentists were planning on leaving the NHS.

“NHS dentistry is hanging by a thread, because without NHS dentists, there will be no NHS dentistry,” said Mr Charlwood. “It’s a really serious situation and every dentist that is lost or every vacancy for NHS dentistry that remains unfilled affects thousands of patients in terms of care and their ability to access care.

“Every practice struggling to fill vacancies translates into thousands of patients unable to access care,” said Mr Charlwood.

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“Years of failed contracts and underfunding have meant a growing number of dentists no longer see the NHS as a place to build a career.

“The pandemic has upped the ante, and we are now facing down an exodus.

“Ministers have failed to grasp that we can’t have NHS dentistry without NHS dentists.

“Rather than punishing colleagues, we need a service that recognises and rewards commitment.”